Writings and observations

Around the country, election watchers are being stunned by the large numbers of early voters – in Florida, North Carolina, lots of other places.

Not so stunned in Oregon, home of the mail-in early vote as an institutionalized practice. The stats as of today are that about 24% of eligible voters have turned in ballots, compared with 30% four years ago at this point in the process.

Why the lower number, in a year when interest in the election generally seems to be running so high?

At Blue Oregon, Jeff Alworth asked readers for any pet theories about this. To which one reader replied, “Conservative felines in Los Gatos emailed their Oregon counterparts to chew up owners’ ballots. You wanted a pet theory.”

He adds, “Jeff Mapes suggests either the lack of a hot-button ballot measure or indecision in the Senate race might have suppressed enthusiasm. Could be. My pet theories are these: 1) although there is great interest in the election this year, Oregonians are not getting the kind of attention we got in ’00 and ’04, and are therefore haven’t stirred ourselves to vote, and/or 2) the polls so strongly suggest an Obama win that voters are complacent about getting their ballots in.”

At fivethirtyeight.com, Nate Silver draws some linkage between counties that vote more Republican and lower ballot turn-ins, and converse. But as Alworth suggests, the linkage seems a little thin.

Could it be that the estimate of how many eligible voters there are, is simply higher this year? That some of those many newly-registered voters aren’t showing?

Consider the history, which seems a little over the map. Here are day runups from the general election results over the last decade.

year 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
2006 1 2 6 10 14 19 25 34 40 45 58 72 100
2004 1 3 9 15 21 29 35 45 53 60 73 84 100
2002 0 1 5 10 14 18 24 32 38 44 52 72 100
2000 1 6 9 13 17 23 32 39 46 55 76 100
1998 3 8 12 16 20 27 36 42 49 57 74 100

The variation this year? They’ve been variable for a while.

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Idaho Republican Representative Bill Sali has piled up a mass of items useful for his Democratic opponents to dig into, and they have been. The state party has been releasing, one by one, “30 reasons Idaho votes don’t want Bill Sali,” and quite a few are solid and substantive; most are policy driven, and relate to what he’s done as a candidate and congressman.

So you have wonder about the impulse to release Sali’s, and his wife’s, social security numbers on a statewide attack flyer, sent and approved by the Idaho Democratic Party.

As reporter Betsy Russell describes it: “The flier faults Sali for past financial problems, including state and federal tax liens filed against him in 1988, and his continuing campaign debt. The flier shows parts of two tax liens; on one, both Social Security numbers are visible.”

The ongoing campaign debt is certainly fair game. But personal liens from 1988, as in two decades ago? (If he’s had no similar problems since then, most people probably would consider the matter closed, especially since those particular debts apparently were paid.) And Social Security numbers? At the least, those could have been blacked out, and the public learned nothing with their disclosure. His spokesman Wayne Hoffman suggested, “I think the party bears a certain responsibility if Mr. or Mrs. Sali’s identities are stolen following this.”

These are rugged political days. But they don’t have to be this rugged.

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