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Saturday, October 27, 2007
Electronic Voting, and a Candidate's Homework that Didn't Get Done

First, I voted early, just to see if I hated it, and because I had already chosen all my votes. Second, here is a detailed look at actual data, which contradict one city council candidate's wild claim about violent crime American Fork.

Gentle reader, I have set myself a goal. From now until the election is over (assuming that's on or about November 6, but you never know), I will not blog twice in a row about school vouchers. In between, there's other stuff to talk about. The other stuff may not be as interesting in the immediate electoral sense, but so be it. This is one of those "tweener" posts that's not about vouchers.

Early Voting in Practice

The phenomenon of early voting is relatively new, and I have turned up my nose at it thus far. But this week I decided that I should at least try it once, at least in order to have some legitimacy in turning up my nose at it in the future. (Note: This logic does not apply to everything, such as drunk driving.) So yesterday afternoon I sneaked away from work and went to the American Fork Library. It was their fourth afternoon of early voting, I believe, and I was the 131st early voter in American Fork. (There are other locations for early voting around the county.)

There was no line. The electronic voting machines were easy and quick to manage, as before. I did just fine with punch cards for years, but whatever. And perhaps best of all, I didn't have to figure out where to go to vote in my new precinct on November 6, since all American Fork precincts do early voting at the Library. I was in AF05 for years, but Utah County sent me a postcard the other day, advising me that I am now in AF04. I guess AF05 can find a new Republican Vice Chair. I am now officially a lame duck. Yawn. I mean, Quack.

Early Voting in Theory

I know the argument -- because I've made it -- that there is something special about voting in person on Election Day, that it is an important civic ritual. But voting early yesterday didn't feel any different or any less important. So maybe early voting is okay. But I still think absentee voting ought to be reserved for those who really need it, and everyone else ought to be expected to appear in person at the polls -- on one day or another.

Early voting, if it really catches on, could have some interesting effects on campaign tactics. For example, "October surprises" may have to become "early October surprises," or perhaps even "late September surprises." This might compromise their effectiveness, because there will be more time for responses -- perhaps including the truth -- to come out before Election Day. That wouldn't be bad. Likewise, early voting may affect the timing of campaign mailers, debates, and other things. That's not a big deal.

Early Voting in Practice, Part II

If you pay enough attention to my blog to know whom I endorsed for American Fork City Council seats, you know that I left open the possibility of voting either for four-term incumbent Rick Storrs, a good man with considerable virtues, or the lone challenger, Jason Porter, who has some interesting skills and experience outside government. I fully expected to weigh these two alternatives right up to Election Day, then decide for whom to vote. Then I changed my mind.

Upon reflection, I discovered that I had no interest in considering Mr. Porter further, as a possible recipient of my vote. He may be intelligent and well-intentioned, but -- how can I put this gently? -- decisions are made by those who show up. Elections are won by those who show up. The lone challenger in the race hasn't done much showing up. That is not encouraging, to those of us who look at candidates and try to project what sort of leaders they will be.

I Feel Even Better About My Decision Now

Today I got around to reading the candidate statements in an American Fork Citizen story published Thursday. These are statements submitted by the candidates, and we will assume for discussion's sake that they are accurately transmitted.

In his statement Porter asserts, "We [American Fork] have one of the highest rates in Utah of violent crime."

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who read this. In an official memo dated today, addressed to American Fork's Mayor and City Council, and written at the request of an unnamed City official, American Fork Police Chief Lance Call reports that Porter's statement is wrong -- as in, not true. The memo cites Utah State Bureau of Criminal Identification data for 2005, the most recent available. The BCI includes a "Violent Crime Index," which is essentially a per-capita rating of violent crime.

First, let's look at Utah County. Though Porter's statement mentions the state, not the county, it's not even true in Utah County. Here is the BCI data, as reported in the Call memo. (In a moment I'll explain why American Fork's situation is actually even better that its Violent Crime Index suggests.)

  1. Mapleton (2.16)
  2. Provo (1.65)
  3. Alpine/Highland (1.47)
  4. American Fork (1.36)
  5. Springville (1.18)
  6. Lehi (0.88)
  7. Unincorporated (0.88)
  8. Orem (0.72)
  9. Spanish Fork (0.60)
  10. Santaquin (0.50)
  11. Pleasant Grove/Lindon (0.46)
  12. Salem (0.42)

I suppose that one could say that all of the top six on the above list are "among the highest violent crime rates in Utah County," simply because they are in the upper half. But American Fork's crime rate is less than two-thirds of Mapleton's rate, about 20 percent lower than Provo's, and several percent lower than Highland and Alpine, of all places.

But there's a problem with the data, as Chief Call explains in his memo. Because AFPD patrols Cedar Hills, too, their violent crimes are counted in American Fork's totals, but their population isn't. This seriously skews American Fork's Violent Crime Index upward. Adjust the numbers properly for population, and the list looks more like this:

  1. Mapleton (2.16)
  2. Provo (1.65)
  3. Alpine/Highland (1.47)
  4. Springville (1.18)
  5. Lehi (0.88)
  6. Unincorporated (0.88)
  7. American Fork/Cedar Hills (0.78)
  8. Orem (0.72)
  9. Spanish Fork (0.60)
  10. Santaquin (0.50)
  11. Pleasant Grove/Lindon (0.46)
  12. Salem (0.42)

Now we look for a moment at the state, which Porter's statement mentions. Chief Call's memo gives the following examples:

  • South Salt Lake City (9.33)
  • Salt Lake City (7.32)
  • Ogden (4.91)
  • West Valley City (4.61)

American Fork, at 1.36 before correction and 0.78 after, doesn't even deserve mention in this high-crime league. American Fork's rate is not just a lot lower than the highest rates in the state; it's an order of magnitude lower.

Maybe it's just me, but when a candidate slings accusations without doing his homework, I have a hard time taking him seriously. There's plenty of room for improvement in the city, and there are plenty of serious issues. He doesn't need to make things up. Is he learning his numbers and his reasoning from the anti-voucher playbook, where fact is nothing and fear is everything? And what's next? Complaining that other candidates are stealing his campaign signs?

A Final, Barely-Related Note

I'll admit that American Fork's City Council race isn't very exciting this year, with the total candidate population only one larger than the number of available seats. Here's one idea for livening it up just a tad. If you have a Sherry Kramer sign in your yard -- don't do this to one in someone else's yard -- print the name "Cosmo" in very large type and tape it over "Sherry." Just so you know, my focus group, consisting of a single eight-year-old with whom I share a surname, found this idea no less than inspiring.

If you don't know the name Cosmo Kramer, follow the link and learn.

Please note: I'm not suggesting you vote for Cosmo Kramer as a write-in candidate. That would be silly.

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