Military absentee ballots in NC 2008, 61.2% success rate

November 26, 2008

The Associated Press reported in early October that in 2006 only 30% of military absentee ballots were counted, noting that:

“No one keeps centralized records on military ballots or voter turnout. But anecdotal evidence collected from local voting districts, which number more than 7,000, points to ballots that arrived late, ballots not properly filled out and ballots mailed to the wrong location — most of which get discarded. “

In response, The N&O editorialized “The answer ultimately does lie in the Internet, using either a centralized voting system for troops abroad (plugging into precinct-level ballot choices) or through intensified efforts by the states to give military voters a much higher priority and a clearer route to effective participation in the democratic system that they’re protecting.”

I took a few free minutes prior to the Thanksgiving holiday to see how North Carolina did in 2008 in this regard. I analyzed in MSAccess a North Carolina State Board of Elections file on 2008 general election absentee voting, and found that 13,501 absentee ballot applications were received from military personnel using the federal postcard form (it is possible that some already registered military personnel might have used a regular absentee application), and of those 8,262, or 61.2% of the total, were voted, a far better number than the 30% reported in the 2006 study nationwide.

31.6% of the ballots sent out were never returned at all, but there were some smaller categories of nonvoted ballots:

2.4% spoiled (the applicant got the ballot and returned it, asking for another. It is unknown how many of those were eventually voted as they would be lumped in a second time in one of the other categories)

0.5% rejected for no signature

2.2% returned undeliverable

0.4% application rejected (reason not stated in the file)

0.1% returned unvoted

1.5% voluntarily cancelled by applicant

0.01% no application

0.01% “conflict”

0.01% duplicate.

If you exclude the voluntarily cancelled category, the success rate rises to 62.1%. 

The 61.2% successfully voted military ballots compares with an 82.56% success rate for the 259,857 civilian applications from already registered voters, and a 72.23% success rate for the 5,596 overseas civilians using the federal postcard application.

North Carolina begins to mail out absentee ballots 50 days prior to the election, added by a primary election cycle that ends with the second primary in late June. About 20 states have primaries in August and September, making timely mailout and return of absentee ballots more difficult, especially for the military.

I will be in Atlanta December 11 at the NCSL Fall Forum where the issue of improving access to absentee voting for the military and overseas voter will be discussed:

2:45 pm – 3:45 pm Improving the Voting Process for Military and Overseas Citizens
Westin Peachtree Atlanta A–7 Redistricting and Elections Committee

Many legislatures are looking at ways to improve the voting process for Americans who are serving overseas in the military or otherwise are out of the country during elections.

  • Speakers: David Becker, Pew Center on the States, Washington, D.C.
  • Representative Jeremy N. Kalin, Minnesota
  • Senator Cecil Staton, Georgia
  • Steve Wilborn, Uniform Law Commission, Kentucky

12:00 noon on the third Wednesday after the second Monday in January next

November 24, 2008

The North Carolina General Assembly will convene its 2009 Regular Session  January 28, 2009, which is  “12:00 noon on the third Wednesday after the second Monday in January next after their election.”

Prior to 1879, North Carolina legislative elections were in early August and convening was mid-November. Elections were moved to November beginning with 1879. From 1879 through 1955, the General Assembly convened in early January.  From 1957 through 1967, convening was in early February, followed by a mid-January date from 1969 through 1983. The 1985 and 1987 session went to an early February convening, followed by mid-January in 1989. The current pattern of late January began in 1991.

How did it get to that complicated a date?  Here is a history of the changes since the Civil War:

Read the rest of this entry »

How to achieve a finished piece of legislation

November 18, 2008

Here’s a presentation I made to Leadership NC at their government session in Raleigh on November 6, 2008. I was on a panel with North Carolina Supreme Court Clerk Christie Cameron, and Franklin Freeman, Governor Easley’s legislative liason.



Gerry Cohen, Director of Bill Drafting, North Carolina General Assembly

Presentation to Leadership NC November 6, 2008

Most civics classes focus on how a bill becomes a law. Just as important is how an idea becomes a bill. During the 2007-2008 legislative session, 4,993 bills and resolutions were filed, and 884 (17% of the total) became law.  That wasn’t the whole iceberg, legislative staff received 5,693 bill drafting requests from members. That volume of requests has been steadily rising, from 3,401 in 2001-2002, to 3,533 in 2003-2004, up a staggering amount to 5,367 in 2005-2006 and then up to this past’s session’s total.

Read the rest of this entry »

US Supremes hear NC redistricting case

November 17, 2008

As previously posted, the United States Supreme Court on October 14 heard North Carolina’s appeal from a North Carolina State Supreme Court case holding that a 2003 State House of Representatives redistricting plan violated the North Carolina State Constitution in District 18 in Pender and New Hanover Counties.

The North Carolina Supreme Court had ordered the district redrawn in 2009 to apply to the 2010 election, but that action was stayed pending the appeal.

There appear to be three possible outcomes of the US Supreme Court decision:

1) The decision is affirmed, and the 2009 regular session must act. Unknown, however, is whether the basis of the Supreme Court decision will apply to other State House and Senate Senate Districts, and if so whether they must be redrawn for 2010 or whether the case will provide guidance for the 2011 redistricting but only New Hanover and Pender will be affected in 2009.

2) The decision is reversed.  The greatest likelihood here is that the decision will require no further action by the 2009 Regular Session.

3) This case is remanded (suggested by Justice Ginsburg, see page 23 of the oral argument transcript) for further action by the North Carolina Supreme Court based on whatever guidance it provides in the remand, which might or might not mean any action in 2009!

Another kicker in all of this is the timing of the US Supreme Court decision — it could ne handed down any time before the court session adjourns in June of 2009.

The New York Times had a good write-up of the oral arguments. The Times that while previous cases appeared to set an 50% black population threshold and House District 18 was 29% black,

“Justice Stephen G. Breyer proposed yet another number, one tied to the amount of crossover voting from whites needed to elect the minority group’s preferred candidate. ‘There’s a kind of natural stopping place,’ he said. ‘When I worked out the numbers, it seemed that natural stopping place fell around 42-43 percent.’ ” 


Today is county election canvass day

November 14, 2008

Today is the day when the 100 counties canvass their election results, and announce the count of about 40,000 provisional ballots. The official State canvass is on November 25.

Want to keep up with the canvass and the provisional ballots?  Election return central is here, and you can watch the totals change as the counties report their official tallies up to the State. You can see the provisional count by going to the main election return website, look for “Custom Filter by Vote Type and County”, select the voter type “Provisional”, then “County” “all” to see the statewide provisional tally, or selecxt a particular county. Note that the 100 out of 100 counties reporting header you will see does not mean that 100 counties have reported their provisionals.  At 10:18 am, the site shows 20 provisionals counted. There is a refresh button.

The Buffalo Nose and other tall tales

November 14, 2008

Did you know that the nickname of the Press Room at the old State Capitol back when the General Assembly sat there through 1961 was the “Buffalo Nose”. That’s one of the facts I uncovered in preparing a presentation I gave last night to the annual Capitol Beat opening reception. CapitolBeat is the Assocation of Capitol Reporters and Editors (The Statehouse beat). There were media reps from 25 or more states. One AP reporter from another state turned out to have been a year ahead of me in junior high school back in West Hartford, CT and lived not too far away from me.

Here is my presentation, all of which was put together by researching, emailing, making phone calls, and climbing around the Capitol yesterday:



I was asked to speak tonight about the North Carolina State Capitol, but I’m not sure why. I’m starting my 32nd year with the General Assembly tomorrow, and have been hanging around NC State government since 1971, but my only contact with the Capitol is to occasionally deliver or pick up bills, usually the state budget, from the Governor’s office. Former 4-term Governor Jim Hunt used to give me lemonade when I delivered bills, but I’ve yet to get anything from Governor Easley. Probably the new ethics laws. Read the rest of this entry »

My 32nd year at the NC General Assembly starts today

November 14, 2008

I started at the North Carolina General Assembly November 14, 1977, so that makes today the first day of my 32nd year here.  While I’m the senior staff person in terms of total permanent staff time, we do have two staff members who have continuous temporary and permanent time beginning with the 1965 Session (Dot Barber and Shirley Wallace), and of course Penny Williams who started with the General Assembly in 1959, though she did have a break in service from then until the mid-1980s.