ICYMI: Get with the data

BigDataMy latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Thursday.

Norfolk and Chesapeake have two different systems of electing local officials. Norfolk uses the ward system while Chesapeake uses an at-large system. With both having elections Tuesday, I thought it might be useful to compare the two systems, taking into account that one had a top-of-the-ticket race – Norfolk’s mayoral contest – while the other did not. But it was absolutely an impossible task.

Norfolk’s registrar has me spoiled. The results are posted to the website in a pdf as they come in. Chesapeake, on the other hand, doesn’t give any results information. In fact, the results page is outdated and doesn’t even direct the viewer to the SBE site.

I did locate on the Chesapeake site the voter registration numbers by precinct for April 2014 (bottom of the page), which is better than what I could find on the SBE website. The site has recently been redesigned – which may account for its unreliability – but as a data source, it’s getting worse: no registration statistics since January, and no turnout statistics except for November elections. There used to be turnout reports for each locality for each election – see 2005 primaries, for example – but November 2005 was the last time it was provided.

I find it ludicrous that we are getting less information than we were nine years ago.

But back to Chesapeake. The SBE is the only source of information on last Tuesday’s elections. Don’t bother clicking on that “Export Results to Excel” link at the top: it gives no more information than what you see on the screen. There is no breakdown by precinct. And there is no count anywhere of the number of people who voted in the election. The total votes are SO misleading, since each voter could cast a ballot for up to five candidates in each race.

At least in 2012, there was a mayoral race that could be used as a proxy for total votes cast in order to determine turnout but even that is suspect. Sometimes, people don’t vote for the top of the ticket, but do vote downballot.

Surely someone in the Chesapeake registrar’s office knows how many ballots were cast. How hard would it be to share it with us?

Without the data, I can’t begin to determine the effects, if any, of the different systems on voter turnout. I’m surprised the campaign folks in Chesapeake are not clamoring for this information.

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot nor am I paid for my contributions to the paper.


11 thoughts on “ICYMI: Get with the data

  1. Unless you’ve got the actual voter list, I don’t think you can calculate turnout for at-large races. At one point I spent days trying to figure out a way to calculate win numbers for Virginia Beach where you only get 2 votes and even that is next to impossible. Even if you get close, once you realize that many of the minority populations, especially Filipino’s block vote for one candidate to increase their influence, it makes all of the math useless.

      1. That and the state should allow access to voter lists for academic research. Just remove the names and addresses, keep gender and date of birth info and resolve location down to the census block.

  2. If I have not said so lately, thanks Vivian for continuing to try to educate citizens about voting and the importance of their votes as well as researching candidates.
    My frustration this year has been the question of “Do you support an elected school board in Norfolk?” I think that is the wrong question, I think it should be, ” What do we need to do to educate the citizens about the need for an elected school board?” We have had over the years three attempts, during years of a Presidential election, a Gubernatorial and could not get enough signatures was obtained. There has to be a reason for citizens to not wanting an elected school board here. True, it would not have taxing authority and perhaps, that’s the reason. Have a great weekend!

    1. The reason isn’t that citizens don’t want an elected school board. The reason is that citizens in general are too lazy to do the work necessary to get the 13,000 valid petition signatures needed to get it on the ballot. Without $25,000 or hundreds of volunteers, that number is not achievable with just the small core group of volunteers that has been involved in each effort.

    2. We’ve had 3 tries in recent years, yes, but there were others earlier. Here’s an article of mine from 2007 that references three efforts from the 1990s. (Sorry the link in that post no longer works – VT shut down its archives.)

      I disagree that the citizens are lazy. As I said then, the lack of support from council is a problem. Truth is, the majority of the PTB in Norfolk want nothing to do with sharing that power with the citizens. And as long as the majority of Norfolk voters continue to be free-riders, thereby substituting the opinion of others for their own, nothing will ever change.

      1. I’m not sure how you can disagree that the citizens are lazy and make that point about them being free riders. Though I would clarify that those citizens actively involved in Norfolk government are the best I’ve seen in any city in Hampton Roads. Though in a lot of cases that says more about how messed up our government is than anything else.

        As for council, lots of them support it. Tommy Smigiel, Andy Protogyrou, Angelia Williams, and soon to be Mamie Johnson. If each of them would donate $1000 or spend $1000 of their own money paying people to collect signatures, it would make the ballot this November with no problem at all. Wayne Coleman supports it too and he can definitely afford to write a $1000 check. If Richard Ottinger wants to be taken seriously in his upcoming run for State Senate, he should cut a check too.

        Now hopefully all of those people have Google Alerts for their names…

        1. I think you misunderstand what I’m saying. I don’t equate free riding with being lazy – except for intellectual laziness. As I said – these folks substitute the opinions of others for their own, instead of taking the time to learn about the issues. It’s no different than the people who show up to vote and allow party affiliation to be a proxy.

          No offense to the folks on council who support elected school boards but outside of Tommy, none of them has done anything to help. Paying lip service isn’t doing anything.

          And it’s not just the money. Even with it, citizen-led initiatives tend to fail. If the PTB support something, it happens. If they don’t, all the money in the world isn’t going to make up for it.

          If Fraim decided to support an elected school board, it would happen. In fact, if there were 5 votes for it on council, it would happen. But absent those things, I just don’t see it.

          1. “these folks substitute the opinions of others for their own, instead of taking the time to learn about the issues.”

            You are so right. And its sad, because that kind of thinking is basically the cousin of stereotyping and prejudices based on any number of factors.

            George Schaefer supports an elected school board and he’s the one counting the signatures, so if they do get enough valid ones, I don’t think there’s anything the PTB can do to stop it getting on the ballot. And given the current state of our schools, I don’t see how it could fail if that happens.

            And we’re just one vote short on council, assuming that anyone besides Fraim has the ability to put something on the agenda. Maybe we can get rid of Winn in 2016.

          2. Which is why I opposed putting party labels on the ballot. If you don’t even know the name of your party’s candidate, you shouldn’t be voting anyway.

  3. Obviously, they don’t HAVE to do anything. That is they problem with government monopoly. You cannot fire the bureaucrats.

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