PoliGraph: Severson wrong on rejected ballots

State Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, says that if he’s elected Secretary of State, he’ll do a better job of making sure military personnel overseas have their say in local elections.

During the 2008 elections, “military ballots were 16 times more likely to be rejected by local officials than other absentee ballots,” Severson wrote on his Web site. Severson repeated the claim at a press conference on June 7 at the State Office Building.

Absentee ballots played a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the Senate election recount.

But Severson’s claim is based on data that have since been corrected by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank and the original source of this claim. In fact, the rejection rate for military ballots was quite a bit lower. Although the correct information is easily found by reading the revised report, the data remain incorrect on Severson’s web site.

The Evidence

The data Severson cited was published in October of 2009 by the Center for the American Experiment, which got its data from an analysis published by the Heritage Foundation in July of 2009. The Center for the American Experiment did not list its sources.

But according to Hans von Spakovsky and Eric Eversole, authors of the Heritage Foundation report, they initially misread some important numbers and determined that military absentee ballots were 16 times more likely to be rejected than regular absentee ballots.

In March, they corrected their report and posted the accurate information on their web site.

“If the military voter in Minnesota cast his or her absentee ballot, that ballot was nearly two times more likely to be rejected by local election officials, as compared to other absentee voters statewide,” the Heritage Foundation report now reads.

The Verdict

Severson’s claim came from two reports that had the numbers wrong. In fact, military absentee ballots were two times more likely to be rejected than compared to regular absentee ballots – far less than Severson stated.

It’s a false for Severson’s claim.

Sources

Dan Severson for Secretary of State, accessed June 9, 2010

The Heritage Foundation, America’s Military Voters: Re-enfranchising the

Disenfranchised, by Hans von Spakovsky and M. Eric Eversole, July 28, 2009. Updated March, 2010.

The Center for the American Experiment, No Longer a National Model: Fifteen Recommendations for Fixing Minnesota Election Law and Practice, by Kent Kaiser, October, 2009

Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, Minnesota’s Elections — Transparent, Verifiable, and Accurate, Feb. 25, 2010

Moritz Law School, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment, accessed June 10, 2010

Minnesota Blue Book 2009-2010, Chapter 10: Minnesota Votes, accessed June 10, 2010

Interview, Dan Severson, June 10, 2010

Interview M. Eric Eversole, author of America’s Military Voters: Re-enfranchising the Disenfranchised, June 10, 2010

Interview, Kent Kaiser, author of No Longer a National Model: Fifteen Recommendations for Fixing Minnesota Election Law and Practice, June 10, 2010

Interview, Kathy Bonnifield, Associate Director, Citizens for Election Integrity-Minnesota, June 10, 2010

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  • Jon

    “The data Severson cited was published in October of 2009 by the Center for the American Experiment, which got its data from an analysis published by the Heritage Foundation in July of 2009. The Center for the American Experiment did not list its sources.”

    These sentences seem contradictory. But, given that the footnotes for the Heritage report do not seem to work, it is not possible online to see where their numbers come from. If they can’t be verified, it seems like you should shy away from using them in your verdict. Rep. Severson is wrong either way, but repeating their updated number in the verdict as if accurate seems risky given we cannot see where it comes from to begin with. They just aren’t a crowd that deserves blind trust.

  • Catharine Richert

    First, we did verify with the author of the Center for the American Experiment report that he pulled the claim from the Heritage Foundation report.

    For those of you wanting a little more background on the numbers, here’s how they break down:

    About 2.9 million ballots were cast in the 2008 election. Of those, roughly 300,000 were absentee votes and less than 13,000 them — or about 4 percent – were rejected. That’s compared to the 8.2 percent of military ballots that were rejected.

    So, military absentee ballots were two times more likely to be rejected than regular absentee ballots.

    Here’s how Eversole and von Spakovsky got confused.

    Page nine of the recount Findings of Fact reads, “Approximately 300,000 people voted by absentee ballot during the Nov. 4, 2008 General Election… Fewer than 13,000 absentee ballots or less 0.5% of all ballots cast in the election were rejected.”

    The authors told us that they initially thought the 13,000 absentee ballots was .5 percent of all absentee ballots cast. If that were the case, with 8.2 percent of all military absentee ballots rejected, it would be correct to say that military absentee votes were 16 times more likely to be rejected.

    Rather, 13,000 is about .5 percent of all ballots cast in the election.

  • http://www.minnesotacentral.blogspot.com Minnesota Central

    First, THANKS to PoliGraph for promoting this claim.

    Candidate Severson should be ashamed that he continues to pass “old data” that even the Heritage Foundation updated in March … the Heritage report now states “if the military voter in Minnesota cast his or her absentee ballot, that ballot was NEARLY TWO TIMES more likely to be rejected by local election officials, as compared to other absentee voters statewide.” ( CAPITALIZATION done by me for effect)

    Second, is using Percentages part of the problem. Would it not be better to discuss it in hard numbers. In 2008, the number of Military absentee ballots was 3,702 of which 306 were rejected. The Coleman campaign made a big deal that military absentee ballots were a problem … yet, if Senator Coleman did get every one of these absentee ballots accepted, he would have still lost.

    Looking at hard numbers also reveals something else … the number of military absentee ballots accepted actually increased … in 2006, 1,276 ballots were accepted. If anything, the SOS and election officials should be commended for increasing the participation rate. People who listened to SOS Ritchie on MPR prior to the election heard him a number of times mention that they were using the Internet and new forms to expedite the application process.

    And, isn’t the real question, why were these absentee ballots rejected … were there valid reasons … if so, then the process worked … a rejected ballot does not mean that the SOS did anything wrong. IF a ballot arrived a minute, a day or a month after the “close time”, then it’s late … and if the law is to be followed, then it must be rejected. The majority of rejected UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) ballots were rejected because they came in after the election deadline.

    Lastly, I would hate to see SOS Severson take credit for improvement in the process when one of the biggest causes of the problem was the September primary and that absentee ballots were not available until 30 day prior to Election Day (remember there was a recount for the MN-Supreme Court). The primary has been moved up and ballots must now be sent out 45 days prior to Election Day … as such the number of late absentee ballots should be less in 2010.