Friday, August 28, 2015

Voter Registration and Turnout Figures

I found Gardner Selby’s Politifact Texas article in Sunday’s Austin American-Statesman interesting and decided to do some of my own checking. The article assessed whether Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant’s statement that Texas ranked near the bottom in registered voters was accurate.

There are various ways to compute the percentage of registered voters. Most commonly, the percentage of registered voters is calculated by dividing the number of registered voters by the voting age population (VAP) –residents who are 18 years-old and older. For example, if the number of registered voters is 14,025,441, and the voting age population is 18,915,297, then the percentage of registered voters is 74.15 percent.  These are the figures used by the Texas Secretary of State to calculate percentage of registered voters.

This is problematic as some of the voting age population may not be qualified to vote because they are not citizens of the United States or are incarcerated felons and unable to vote in most states. A better indication of the percentage of registered voters would be calculated using the number of registered voters divided by the voting eligible population, which would exclude non-citizens, felons unable to vote, and paroled felons who are not able to vote. Associate Professor Michael McDonald, University of Florida, provides these figures for each state at his United States Elections Project Web site. Here are his calculations for Texas’ voter eligible population:

The Census Bureau’s data come from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and are described below:
The data in this report are based on responses to the November CPS Voting and Registration Supplements, which survey the civilian noninstitutionalized population in the United States. Voting estimates from the CPS and other sample surveys have historically differed from those based on administrative data, such as the official results reported by each state and disseminated collectively by the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Federal Election Commission (FEC). In general, voting rates from the sample surveys such as the CPS are higher than official results (Bauman and Julian, 2010; De Bell, et al., 2015). Potential explanations for these differences include misreporting, problems with memory or knowledge of others’ behavior, and methodological issues related to question wording, method of survey administration, and nonresponse. Despite these issues, the Census Bureau’s November supplement to the CPS remains the most comprehensive data source available for examining the social and demographic composition of the electorate in federal elections, particularly when examining broad historical trends for subpopulations.
Here are the Census Bureau’s data for Texas:

Now let’s compare the data. The VAP is 18,915,297 according to the Texas Secretary of State, 19,847,831 according to the Elections Project, and 19,354,000 according to the Census Bureau’s CPS. The total number of registered voters is 14,025,441 according to the Texas Secretary of State, and 9,946,000 according to the Census Bureau’s CPS. The voting eligible population in Texas is 16,679,393 according to the Elections Project, and 16,844,000 according to the Census Bureau’s CPS. The greatest discrepancy is in the number of voters. The Texas Secretary of State calculated that 4,727,408 Texans voted whereas the Census Bureau’s CPS found that 5,836,000 Texans claimed to have voted in the 2014 election.

What should one think about this information? I would argue that the data on number of registered voters for an election would be more accurate from the state official responsible for voter registration. The data from the Census Bureau could be inflated. Isn’t one expected to be registered? If one isn’t registered, is that a sign that the person is not accepting his or her responsibility in a democracy? I would make the same argument for number of voters in an election and for the same reason. Concerning VAP and VEP, I’m inclined to take the Election Project’s data as more accurate than either the Texas Secretary of State’s data or the Census Bureau’s data.

So, how many Texans are registered to vote? I would say that 14,025,441 is the correct number of registered voters. What percentage of eligible Texans are registered to vote? Divide the number of registered voters by the VEP, which results in 84.01 percent. What percentage of Texans voted in 2014? The number of voters was 4,727,208. The percentage of VEP that voted was 28.34 percent.
That's nothing to be proud of!

The full table by the Census Bureau is below:

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