Deborah Seiler, San Diego Country Registrar Of Voters
Richard Hofstetter, Professor, SDSU's Department of Political Science
Related Story: What To Expect On San Diego's Election Day
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, preparation in San Diego for tomorrow's big election. Even with the mail-in ballots and early election election day still the mail main event for the San Diego County registrar of voters. We will hear from the registrar and later on speak with the man who studied clinical pulls to try to figure out the messages behind the numbers especially tomorrow's exit polls. Right now I'd like to welcome back Debra Seiler, San Diego County registrar of voters. Deborah it's good to see you again.
DEBORAH SEILER: Thank you very much Maureen,
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell some of the last-minute preparations you'll be doing for election day.
DEBORAH SEILER: Well as we speak our office is conducting early voting and we have lots of the folks coming in not only to vote in our office but many people are dropping off their mail ballots because at this point it is too late to put them in the mail. All of those mail ballots have to be received by the close of polls to grow at eight o'clock.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So has early voting been popular this year?
DEBORAH SEILER: It has been popular this originally picked up from the June primary of course the June primary was he was very popular this last Saturday when we were open. We served over 1900 voters that day. So it was busy our office.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So long lines but were there also long waits?
No there were not. Contrary to 2008 we had no voters waiting more than one hour in line and that was at the very small display in-line.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want you if you would temperature be which is about mail-in ballots. He said people shouldn't put them in the mail today?
DEBORAH SEILER: That is correct. We could not be guaranteed that they would be received by tomorrow and all mail-in ballots must be received by the time the polls close at eight o'clock tonight, so we urge people to either come to our office and drop the mail ballots off if they haven't, but actually tomorrow any voter in San Diego County who has a mail ballot can go to any polling place in the County of San Diego and drop the mail ballot at the polls.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is good to remember. There was a problem noted with the ballot. And that concerns write in candidates. There is still a line under some offices, but there are actually no qualified write-in candidates. And so does that pose a problem, Deborah?
DEBORAH SEILER: I don't think so. Voters have two choices. I think you're probably referring to the contest for the mayor of San Diego. And while they don't permit write-ins, there is a line there, but if voters vote for one or the other there is no qualified write-in candidate. There is no qualified write-in candidacy and any vote for a write-in would not be counted. I don't think we are seeing any confusion on that at this point.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This year we've heard that pollwatchers will be out in force. If that's true here in San Diego but I know there are literally thousands of them going around to pose all around the country. What can pollwatchers actually do?
DEBORAH SEILER: Poll watchers are there to observe. We really call them observers and that's what they can do. They can observe, they can take notes. If the poll worker isn't busy and there are voters around they can certainly ask questions. But, they're really not supposed to touch anything, they are not supposed to sit at the table with the poll workers, they are not supposed to interfere with the process in any way, but yes they are welcome to observe. We maintain a very transparent process. And this is just part of it. We will have probably for this election we are going to have about five Observer groups out there that we have heard of and some will be doing, some of the groups will be out there doing exit polls. Anybody doing an example has to be at least 25 feet from the entrance to the polling place. And of course there is no electioneering inside the 105 marker in front of the polling place so we have to make sure that none of that is going on and everything is happening as it is supposed to. We also have a whole army of troubleshooters out in the field and field corn eaters and their job is to help the poll workers because obviously the poll workers are inside the polling place but are troubleshooters can be outside so they can make sure that those exit polls state 25 feet from the polling place and they can make sure there is no electioneering.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If there is any voter who feels they are being challenged by a poll watcher or something improper is going on who should they bring the concern to?
DEBORAH SEILER: They should call our office immediately. The poll observers are not supposed to bring challenges. A third party cannot challenge of voters right to vote on election day. The only challenge that could come, and I've never seen it happen is from a poll worker who has been in contact with our office and most definitely with me. So, they would have to check with me and our office before they would raise a challenge. To any voter.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know I'm speaking with Deborah Seiler, San Diego County registrar of voters. We are talking about it being election day tomorrow you mentioned there are certain rules and regulations when it comes to electioneering near a polling place. Is there any regulation on what a person can actually wear, like signs or little buttons on their lapel supporting one candidate or another?
DEBORAH SEILER: That is a good question. No one can come into a polling place with a button click yes on prop 30 or no on prop 30 or this or that candidate, so they can wear any hats, shirts, jackets, but is anything that discusses a ballot measure or a candidate on the ballot.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is interesting I think a lot of people are not aware of that probably until they have had taken off their head when they go to the polling place.
DEBORAH SEILER: If they come we asked them to take the header button off or turn the shirt inside out.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you expect lines at polling places tomorrow?
DEBORAH SEILER: I don't expect lines at the polling places tomorrow. For the selection of 1527 precincts up from June and we have so many people voting by mail now. We've issued over 900,000 vote by mail ballots out of the 1 ½ million voters we have so you can see so many people have asked for mail ballots. What I do expect is that many people, possibly anywhere from 100 to 200,000 people might drop off their mail ballots at the polls and that is appropriate if they haven't put it in the mail, that's exactly what we want them to do.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, do you start to open those mail-in ballots tomorrow? Is that what happens?
DEBORAH SEILER: No we won't open, the mail ballots are dumped at the polls tomorrow we will not open probably until starting about Thursday because you know any mail ballot has to be signed the envelope must be signed by the voter and we must verify the signature. And then of course we have to run them through, sort them, open them and extract the ballots. So that takes some time. So generally speaking by the Monday after the election we have probably over 90% of all those mail ballots into the count. So we do updates nearly every business day after the election. We probably don't do it until one we want to get out of the office until about four o'clock in the morning, but on Thursday, Friday, Monday we will be doing updates to add in all of the ballots that get dropped at the polls.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But the first results that we here at 8 PM on election night, they come from the mail-in ballots that you've already received.
DEBORAH SEILER: That is exactly right and that's a sizable percentage of the boat. So a couple minutes after eight we released the results (inaudible), and you are exactly right, those mail ballots, and that really is a very good indication as to how the votes are going, or how close the contest start. Now I always caution people if it is a very very close contest even after we enter the polls ballots election night until every ballot is counted we would not know who would win.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right are you making protections about turnout?
DEBORAH SEILER: At this point I'm thinking it would be somewhere between 75 and 80% I think it's going to be a good turnout.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a lot not as much as 2008 though.
DEBORAH SEILER: In 2008 we had just under 84% so it is somewhat lower than that but I think it's going to be pretty healthy.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to just let you know when do the polls open and close here in San Diego.
DEBORAH SEILER: The polls open at 7 AM and close at 8 PM. Anyone in line to vote if there is a line if a person is in line 8 PM they will be allowed to vote, but the polls to close promptly at a.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I hope you will come back Wednesday and talk to us about turnout and possible votes that are too close to call?
DEBORAH SEILER: I will sure try.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much. I've been talking to Deborah Seiler, San Diego County registrar of voters. One thing that characterizes the selection is polling that shows a number of very close races. Like to welcome the scholar who studies how polls are conducted and interpreted. Richard Hofstadter is professor emeritus at St. Augustine University's Department of political science and Prof. Hofstadter welcome to the program. Thank you very much. Most polls have the candidates in a virtual dead heat. The San Diego mayor's race is very close, so 72nd congressional race. Are we seeing an unusual number of tight races this time around?
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: At the top of the ticket, the presidential races almost always been pretty close within 5%.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see, so that is usual.
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: They may be a little tighter this time and also the election is really quite different in that there is more money involved in this election than ever before. Some people suggest $2 billion.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh my.
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: And not all that goes to the candidate organizations as a matter fact an awful lot of it does not. So there are unusual circumstances. The electorate seems to be more polarized than it has in the past earlier. The typical pattern is that people, a large number of people really don't make their decisions until the party nominations, the conventions. And then the last week before the election there is 10 to 15% who are undecided. Some of the polls have suggested that those undecideds are a lot fewer this time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you some questions about how polls are conducted. Do pollsters actually ask the people they questioned a straightforward question let go are you going to vote for?
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: There are all kinds of polls. If you are talking about legitimate polls done by legitimate polling agencies, they try to be as objective as possible. Without loading questions one way or the other. These include most of the regular firms that work for candidates because they are a business and their businesses to provide results that are accurate about the strengths and weaknesses of candidates and issues and things like that. And to the extent they err, that is very bad advertising.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: And so most of them are. Now when you are talking about campaign organizations releasing pull data, remember they don't necessarily like, but they selectively release information. And sometimes I suspect they do lie.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Maybe that has happened once or twice in the past, do you think? Now, when we see a poll professor that says candidates are running at 49% to 45% with 7% still undecided, does that mean it is still anybody's race?
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: Well it depends. All polls are based on statistical sampling. That sampling is accurate within a certain margin of error. April is never precisely 100% accurate, and ever. Or if it is it is plain blind luck. But you expect a legitimate police an adequate sample adequately designed and professional interviewers to be able to come within a certain margin of error. And that depends on the sample size. For example, a sample size of say 1000 done well would probably produce a confidence interval around with it which you could predict 95% of the time the results would lay. And that margin of error would be probably plus or -2 1/2% depending on exactly how the sampling was done.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So what you are describing here is if you go with these mathematical constructs you are really going to get a very good sampling of what people are actually thinking and how they are actually going to vote but have there been any polls in her memory that have really gotten it wrong?
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: Yes, not in my memory. It came a bit before me. I conducted one that I got wrong. But in 1936 the Republicans ran against Franklin Roosevelt and there simply base, their frame was people that had cars. So they went through the various DMV's to draw the sample and low and behold those people were much more Republican than the voting population. In 1948 some of the polls were based on quota sampling. That is, they would calculate the number of males and females, Catholics, Protestants and Jews and so on, high and low income people and go from house to house until they filled the quotas. That is nonprobability sampling, and they missed Truman
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dewey wins. I remember seeing that.
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: It didn't take long after that until nearly all the major firms
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you a quick last question because we're almost out of time but exit polls are generally thought to be very accurate and Prof. Is that because people will, they have just come out of the polling place and somebody comes up to them not how are you going to vote, but how did you vote, is that the difference?
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: That is some of it but these are based on statistical models again. They will locate precincts that behave reliable. They might be more Republican than the outcome more democratic than the outcome more independent that the outcome is the people, they estimate what the precinct is doing and compare it to prior trends. And that projects pretty accurately how the election is coming out because usually the trends are broad-based across certain categories of people.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So we're going to see a lot of exit polls tomorrow.
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: Well, but I really wouldn't make about who is going to win the presidency.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because of the exit polls?
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: No because of where they are now. They are too close there is some flexibility turnout is very crucial in how elections turnout, high elections mean more Democratic voters and low turnout elections mean more Republican voters but there are exceptions even to that and we don't know what the effect of the big storm in the East is. We don't know the effects of these various state manipulations of who can vote and who can't.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It may be a long night tomorrow
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: Well, or a long week.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I hope not it is I've been speaking with Richard Hofstadter and earlier I spoke with San Diego County registrar of voters Deborah Seiler thank you very much, Professor.
RICHARD HOFSTETTER: You're welcome.