Friday, August 15, 2008

Ballots and Machines

Expect a lot from me in the coming weeks and months about election processes. I'm of the opinion that the problems that have arisen in Ohio voting in the past have been (with a few notable exceptions) due to performance difficulties in the administration of elections rather than political attempts to influence or steal elections. Unfortunately, those who are concerned with the fact that problems have disproportionately affected voters who tend to vote for Democrats like to attribute the existence of these problems to intentions of Republicans. Republicans, in defending themselves against spurious charges of intentional disenfranchisement, tend to downplay the fact that the accidental disenfranchisement did in fact disproportionately disadvantage Democrats. None of what I write on this subject is intended to be partisan. Some of it may be partisan despite my intentions, and some of it will seem partisan by what amounts to coincidence- When it comes to election integrity, progressives are more concerned with the idea that some people who should be able to vote are prevented from doing so, and conservatives tend to be more concerned with the idea that some people who shouldn't be allowed to vote might find a way to do so. This tends to fit in very well with the principles of each group, and the fact that pursuing these principles leads to potential electoral advantage is for many simply a bonus.

On to today's notes.

--I wrote an email to the Franklin County BOE regarding their website, which prominently displays the same paragraph that everybody looks at first regarding ID requirements from ORC 3503. Unfortunately, nearly everyone who reads that paragraph out of context walks away with a complete misunderstanding of the law. Because of this, I'm not thrilled with the BOE posting it in that manner.

While it is absolutely important to make sure that voters are aware that they need identification in order to vote, the section of the statute (3503) you have on the front page of the BOE website can be confusing or misleading when taken out of context. As you're aware, from Chapter 3501: "Election Procedure; Election Officials, in 3501.01 Election procedure - election officials definitions: (aa)(2)
a legal and valid driver's license does not have to have a current address to be legal and valid. More simply, a driver's license by statute does not need to have a current address. This has been a source of confusion in elections past, and you have an excellent opportunity to clarify it by adding to the notice on your front page.

In addition, it is my understanding that the Secretary of State has issued an advisory (2008-12) that indicates the statute you have displayed will change (along with many related statutes) on Sept. 24 as a result of HB562, such that it will allow valid military Identification that lacks an address to be considered acceptable for voting.

To avoid confusion, would it be preferable to remove the notice until Sept. 24, and put up a new notice that more precisely and accurately describes the ID requirements?

Thanks for your consideration,

Jason Sullivan,


-- I couldn't attend the public hearing on voting machine distribution last night, and minutes won't be available for two weeks. All the reports I've seen referencing the allocation process give the good news first, and the bad news second, if at all. So allow me to do it the other way. According to a study commissioned by the Franklin County Board of Elections, the county is hundreds of machines short of what they need under a best-case scenario to avoid lines of 2+ hours for voting at some precincts. Even the shorter ballots in the suburbs will take longer than the 5 minutes allowed by statute for voters to complete, with ballots in the city of Columbus expected to take 9 minutes for the average voter to complete. And because the average voter in most precincts is a very different voter than the average voter countywide, these estimates may miss the mark by quite a bit in some precincts. In other words, in Franklin County we are almost guaranteed of a limited repeat of 2004, in which some precincts have voting lines that are more than long enough to cause some voters not to vote, because they either cannot or will not wait 2+ hours, and it is not unlikely that these long lines will not be randomly distributed. The good news is that the problems should be much less extreme than they were in 2004, because the two biggest sources of variance - individual voting time differences based on ballot length and differences in turnout patterns for presidential elections have been addressed.

--Speaking of voting times, everyone who has seen the result of the ballot-language negotiations regarding the payday lending referendum expects that it will confuse voters (who will be asked whether a repeal of a repeal shall be repealed). This confusion will add to the overall voting time. The only upside is that the campaign on this issue will be high profile enough that most voters will be pretty confident of their choice going in.

--In addition, the Dispatch has weighed in on the 600 character limit the BOE wants to put on ballot language, saying it's a good idea as long as it is done fairly and doesn't advantage one group over another. Which is fine, but in the same piece they offer up the Buckeye Institute's new transparency site as "a public service." What do you want to bet that counties like Franklin and Cuyahoga will get more attention than counties like Delaware and Butler? County BOE's were designed with fairness in mind. The Buckeye Institute was created with advancing conservative causes in mind. Tell me again which innovation is more likely to be spoiled by a lack of fairness.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quote of the Campaign from McCain

Maybe I was the last person to see this, but my jaw dropped when I heard it.

"In the 21st Century, nations don't invade other nations."

I'm still speechless.

Expand Drilling? Fine, Put it on the Table.

The Republicans think they have a winner in their support of more domestic drilling. Like many non-Republicans, my initial instinct is that it's only a winner for the GOP base. The upward price pressure is much more demand-driven than supply-driven, the delay from legislative action to gas at the pumps will cause the relief to be too little/too late, and the growing acceptance of the reality of global warming has made environmental concerns more of a priority in voters minds than it was when the drilling restrictions were put into place, etc. And like many, I have actively opposed expanded drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, maintaining that the risk/reward ratio is just too high.

In recent days, however, some Senate Democrats have been working on a bi-partisan compromise that would allow some expansion of off-shore drilling. And while leadership on both sides has given this compromise outline a cool reception, even more recently both Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi have indicated that expanded drilling is at least on the table. So although I think the demagoguery going on in D.C. right now is pretty silly, and although I tend to be among those who get quite upset when Dem leadership abandons positions that supposedly represented principles, I'm finding myself willing to support a compromise measure. Because as I worked it out in my head, the principle is the same, it's the facts that have changed. And even if the public doesn't understand the facts, they do understand that they have changed.

The risk/reward ratio is changing, and will continue to change. The environmental risk isn't getting much smaller, but risk can be minimized in the terms of the compromise. The reward of drilling is getting greater. Not for the planet, and not for end-users of petroleum products. The relatively small increase in world oil supply will do little to soften long term upward pressure on gas prices. The reward will come in the form of oil companies selling U.S. oil on the international market for buttloads of cash. And although the bulk of that cash may stay in the hands of oil interests, and much of it may not even stay in the U.S., some will. And that bit that will get bigger as world prices go up. And that bit will get bigger if the compromise sets up an investment and tax structure to discourage the cash from going abroad. What it is important to realize, then, is that unless green energy takes over the world far more rapidly than anyone predicts, the U.S will do more domestic drilling. If oil hits $400 per barrel, the environmental risk will be essentially similar, but the financial reward will be 3-4 times greater. If it is theoretically possible for the risk/reward ratio to ever be small enough to allow drilling, the odds are overwhelming that we will eventually see it become so. If you don't think it's even theoretically possible, then you're more extreme than you probably even realize.

So, what will maximize the benefit of that drilling? If we produce the oil, and don't use a single drop of what we produce. If our hydrogen-powered tankers are shipping $400 barrels of oil to China, for which they are paying hundreds of dollars per barrel in capped emissions allowances.

So I'm not willing to support expanded domestic drilling to reduce oil prices. That, as a strategy, is misguided and ineffective. A compromise that permits drilling, but puts us in a better position to prefer higher oil prices to lower oil prices, that I can do.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Anybody Telling the Truth About Payday Lenders?

Once again I'm in violated kitten territory. That's what I call it when I'm defending the awful against charges of the horrendous. It comes from an example I give of an argument I just can't seem to avoid:

Them: Stalin liked to rape kittens.
Me: There is absolutely no evidence Stalin raped kittens.
Them: So are you a Stalinist or just a Stalin apologist?

In this case, the bad guy is Ohioans for Financial Freedom a.k.a the Reject HB545 committee a.k.a The LoanSharks. And the kitten abuse? Fraud and Deception in signature collection.

You see, Ohio Coalition for Responsible Lending held a press conference yesterday in which they accused petition circulators of paying homeless people a dollar each to sign the referendum petition, of blatantly lying about the purpose of the referendum (claiming that it would cut interest rates or even put the "loan sharks" out of business), telling people that they couldn't vote unless they signed the petition, and these tactics were attributed by Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) to the fact that circulators were being paid a dollar per signature.

Now, if anything, I'm biased to believe that the Payday Lenders would either explicitly or implicitly encourage signature gathering by any means necessary, and Ohio has certainly seen it happen before. Sandy Theis, the spokesperson for the anti-referendum group was also the spokesperson for Dancers for Democracy, a group that was the public face of the effort to get a repeal of last year's stripper bill on the ballot. That collection was so hopelessly flawed that the invalid signatures turned in outnumbered the valid signatures better than 2-1, with the pay-per-signature compensation model blamed for the fraud and sloppiness.

But I was surprised at the current allegations, because I had written about the Ohio Petition Company, whose entire sales pitch was based on getting valid, bulletproof signatures, using real time validation and abandoning the pay-per-signature model. When I looked more closely at the allegations, a couple of things stood out. The one that started me poking around first was this:

If you're getting paid $1 per signature you collect, you're not going to offer $1 to someone for signing. You're breaking even.

So I looked around to find out if there were more details about the story of the homeless shelter. It didn't make a whole lot of sense. How many voters at the shelter are registered to vote at their current address? You couldn't pick a less likely place to find valid signatures. The Middletown Journal had this:

Schirmer said Tuesday, Aug. 12, they were approached by a man and woman in late June who said they worked for a payday lending company and would lose their jobs if the measure didn't pass. Then they offered money.

"Right then, as soon as they said that, 15 people said 'we need a dollar,'" Schirmer said. "We went across the street and bought a soda."
Now I've got another red flag. There was a lot of wrangling about the petition language right before I went on vacation. Looking back, the AG rejected one version of the language on June 19, which was more than a week after it was turned in to her. The final language was approved on July 10. There are signatures that are required to even get the petition to the point where the SOS and AG look at it, but it's a much smaller number. As near as I can tell, then, between June 11 and July 11 there were no petitions in circulation. The preliminary signatures were already at the SOS before late June, and there wasn't an approved petition for the statewide drive until mid-July.

As for the woman who said she was told she couldn't vote for or against the issue in November unless she signed... that's not totally false. It sounds as if the true statement "you can't vote for or against the bill in November unless enough people like you sign the petition (because it won't be on the ballot)" was translated to "you can't vote for or against the bill in November unless you sign the petition." It's upsetting, but it seems like a performance issue rather than nefarious intent.

Which brings us to what I consider the worst allegation: Circulators are saying whatever they think will get people to sign. If it is true that circulators are paid by the signature, and if it is also true that real-time validation makes it so that circulators only get paid for valid signatures, such deception is exactly what you would expect to happen. Given that OPC's website exclaims in bold that "We pay by the hour, not by the signature," either Hagan is wrong, OPC is lying, or someone other than OPC is paying circulators. That last seemed the most likely, so I pursued it first. At least one source told me that Arno Political Consultants had been brought in by the lenders to collect signatures along with OPC.

So, is it all the fault of Arno and a pay-per-signature compensation model come back to make a mockery of the process? That's really unclear. I contacted Sandy Theis and asked her if the circulators who had given her misleading info were employed by OPC or APC (apparently the OPC circulators have blue t-shirts and ID's on a lanyard). Ms. Theis said:
"I have no evidence of anybody other than the Ohio Petition Company. They were the only one listed on campaign finance reports, and the only ones I saw. Most did have the blue T-shirts and/or a badge around their necks."
I looked at the campaign finance reports (search on reg# BI1373), and OPC is in fact the only company listed on the disclosure, but the semi-annual report only covers expenses through June 30, before statewide signature collection had commenced. I emailed the public info e-mail address at APC earlier today, but at this point have not heard back. The statement that 'all' the circulators approached by Theis were employed by OPC but only 'most' had the uniforms only muddies things further.

So, I don't doubt that some circulators are lying to get signatures. I've heard the audio. I'd like for it to stop, but until I can figure out who's actually collecting signatures, who's paying them, how they're paying them, and which of them are consistently lying, it's difficult to figure out who's to blame.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Air Robinson. Slam Dunk.

PolitickerOH, Garland, Tiberi

I didn't want to get sucked in too early, and I had my reasons. The first one had to do with a completely unrelated operation called, which debuted this year with great fanfare promising to be the premier new media/old media blend of mass market/insider politics. While there is no doubt that the venture has been a popular one, and the phrase "of The Politico" gets 16k+ results in Google... I was very disappointed. In my personal opinion, The Politico sucks. So when a site seemed to be trying to replicate The Politico on a state-by-state basis, I more than half expected it to eventually suck 50 times as much. The second reason had to do with the Democratic National Convention and the media credentials given to bloggers. One blog per state was to receive convention floor passes, and when the choices were announced, there were some obvious travesties. Some would have you believe that the Ohio choice was problematic. It wasn't. The New Jersey choice, on the other hand, granted credentials to PolitickerNJ, a professionally run website owned by a traditional media corporation (NY Observer) and the flagship Politicker site, over Blue Jersey, one of the granddaddies of the state-level political blogosphere. While Politicker can't be blamed for the Party's choice of credential recipients, merely applying for the credentials was, in my opinion, an insult to the letter and spirit of the DNC's blogger outreach and to the NJ blogosphere. So my first impression of Politicker? A-holes.

Given that I was biased to see PolitickerOH as a site for stale gossip and clumsy spin run by tone-deaf jerks, it may not come as a surprise that I didn't link to it right away. I didn't even bother to waste the space in my RSS reader. But fairly quickly...

PolitickerOH has become pretty much what it set out to become, and I'm certainly more diminished than it is by my dismissal. I read it now. You should read it. I guessed wrong.

Having said that, it still leaves something to be desired at times. For instance, they have an article up about the donations made by the Ohio Physical Therapy Association under Nancy Garland. What they don't mention is that Nancy already has responded to this issue, which was prominently raised during the primary 5 months ago.

Last Friday, they published an interview with Pat Tiberi, who identified energy as the number one issue in the election. They didn't mention that his opponent, David Robinson, had made energy the number one issue of his campaign six months earlier. Nor did they follow-up on Tiberi's ridiculous assertion that:

...he has never heard from any credible source that it's going to take more than seven years for the oil gained from new drilling to enter the market. He said that depending on where the oil is extracted from it could take even less time, such as three to five years.
The U.S. Department of Energy, an agency within the Bush administration, in response to a request by a pro-drilling Republican Senator (Stevens, R-AK), released a study of ANWR Crude Oil Production in May of this year. From the summary:
The assumption that ANWR oil production would begin 10 years after legislation approves the Federal oil and natural gas leasing in the 1002 Area is based on the following 8-to-12 year timeline:

  • 2 to 3 years to obtain leases, including the development of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leasing program, which includes approval of an Environmental Impact Statement, the collection and analysis of seismic data, and the auction and award of leases.
  • 2 to 3 years to drill a single exploratory well. Exploratory wells are slower to drill because geophysical data are collected during drilling, e.g., rock cores and well logs. Typically, Alaska North Slope exploration wells take two full winter seasons to reach the desired depth.
  • 1 to 2 years to develop a production development plan and obtain BLM approval for that plan, if a commercial oil reservoir is discovered. Considerably more time could be required if the discovered oil reservoir is very deep, is filled with heavy oil, or is highly faulted. The petroleum company might have to collect more seismic data or drill delineation wells to confirm that the deposit is commercial.
  • 3 to 4 years to construct the feeder pipelines; to fabricate oil separation and treatment plants, and transport them up from the lower-48 States to the North Slope by ocean barge; construct drilling pads; drill to depth; and complete the wells.

The 10-year timeline for developing ANWR petroleum resources assumes that there is no protracted legal battle in approving the BLM’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, the BLM’s approval to collect seismic data, or the BLM’s approval of a specific lease-development proposal.

So, either the DOE is not credible, or the highest profile drilling proposal will take a minimum of eight years to get fuel to market, and that is only under the best-case scenario. In other words, voters can decide whether they find the U.S. Department of Energy or Pat Tiberi more credible on oil drilling.

But all told, PolitickerOH tends to subscribe to what I think of as the Weekly style of fairness, and I'm okay with that. And they published the Tiberi interview late Friday afternoon, home of the affectionately termed News Dump, which might even mean that they were embarrassed on his behalf. But if they give Mr. Tiberi's bizarre energy assertions more prominent play, so will I.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fun with LTE's

Albert Gabel, a retired OSU professor, wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Dispatch that praised David Robinson for his campaign while decrying the fact that Pat Tiberi receives big chunks of money from the types of donors (PACs, Lobbyists, Corporate interests) who are looking for favors.

Today Debbie Koch responded with a Letter to the Editor chiding Gabel for implying that Tiberi wasn't representing all of the people in the district, and urging voters to do their homework.

So I did some homework. Deborah Koch of Dublin (43017) gave a few hundred bucks to Tiberi back in 2000. No big deal. I've donated to his opponent this year. What's more interesting is that Gary Koch of Dublin (43017) has given more than $13000 to Republicans over the last ten years, including about $5,000 to Tiberi alone.

Do you know what Gary Koch does for a living? He's a lobbyist. As his bio page on his current employer's site states:

Mr. Koch's government relations career began in 1977 when he joined the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, a trade association that represents the retail industry before the Ohio Legislature. In September of 1982, he joined the Ohio Petroleum Council as Vice President, where he lobbied on behalf of the major oil companies. Three years later, Mr. Koch moved to AT&T where he worked not only in Columbus but in Washington, D.C. ...
Now, I don't know for sure that Gary and Deborah Koch share anything more than a last name, a zip code, and a penchant for Republicans, but for the sake of imagination, let's pretend they're married. If that's true, then the response to the letter saying that Pat Tiberi was the Representative of lobbyists and corporations was no more than 'no he isn't, don't be negative' written by... the homemaker wife of a corporate lobbyist. If it's not one household, well then I apologize to Mrs. Koch and thank her for inadvertently steering me to the name of another big lobbyist donor of Pat's.

Either way, like I said, homework is fun.

Rating Schools

Last week I threw out a comment about suburban school districts whining about State Report cards that don't let them coast on their demographic profiles. Paul from Save the Hilliard Schools took some exception in the comments, in part as I seemed to have implied that Bexley's success was as meaningful as Dublin's (and Hilliard's) shortcomings. It was a fair point, and what I really meant to say was that Dublin's shortfall this year was a) much more meaningful than the previous 'excellent' rating (or Bexley's currrent 'excellent' rating for that matter), and b) that the mere idea that Dublin and Cleveland deserved the same rating was not at all as ludicrous as the Dispatch tried to make it out to be.

As if in response (that's been happening a lot lately...), a press release has come out describing work on school ratings done by two OSU researchers:

Currently, most people believe that it is obvious which schools are the best – the ones with the highest achievement scores. But using achievement scores to measure school quality assumes that all schools have students with equivalent backgrounds and opportunities that will give them equal opportunities to succeed in school. And that's obviously not true, von Hippel said.


By comparing test scores at the end of kindergarten and the beginning of first grade, the researchers could measure learning rates during summer vacation.

Comparing test scores from the beginning and end of first grade allowed the researchers to see how much children learn during the school year.

They then were able to calculate how much faster students learned during the first-grade school year compared to when they were on summer vacation. This was the "impact" score that showed how much schools were actually helping students learn.

"If we evaluate schools that way, things change quite a bit as far as which ones we would identify as failing," Downey said.


Based on achievement scores, failing schools tend to be in urban areas, serve a higher percentage of children who qualify for a free lunch, and have a high minority population.

But if you look at impact scores, failing schools are not as concentrated in poor, urban areas with high minority populations.

"When you shift the focus from achievement to impact, there are still schools that do very well and some that do poorly," von Hippel said. "But they are not necessarily where you think they are. There are high-impact schools in every kind of neighborhood, serving every kind of child. The same is true of low-impact schools."
The research appears in the current issue of the journal Sociology of Education (for those who wonder about such things, it has an ISI impact of 1.4, putting it in the top 15-20% of journals in either Sociology or Education). I went back to the actual journal article (subscription only, no link) to answer a question I had and was satisfied both with the overall methodology (those sociologists certainly know how to isolate variance), and with the answer to my question:
A final concern is that impact-based evaluation may penalize schools with high achievement. It may be difficult for any school, no matter how good, to accelerate learning during the school year for high-achievement children. Our study, however, did not find a negative correlation between impact and achievement; to the contrary, the correlation between achievement and impact was positive, although small (see Table 3). And among schools in the top quintile on achievement, 26 percent were also in the top quintile on impact (see Table 4), suggesting that it is possible for a high-achieving school to have high impact as well.
I would love for Franklin County to pilot an impact-based evaluation model, and it would certainly be a chance for Dublin and Hilliard to show that they really are doing more for their students than Southwest or Whitehall are doing for theirs.