William Holahan 113pc

William Holahan

William Holahan's activity stream

  • published BRING BACK DROP BOXES in Econ4Voters 2022-03-06 14:13:34 -0600


    When the nation was founded, the right to vote was limited to white landowners. Since then, our nation has strengthened representative democracy by extending the right to vote to people who do not own land, to non-whites, to women, to younger people. Each time the right to vote was extended to a new demographic group, it was declared that all registered voters are to be accorded equal access to the polls. Officially, access was to be both fair and unbiased.  For example, it became customary within a state that all voting places be open for the same days and hours.  That would seem to provide equal access, but in practice, it can be used as a tool to suppress the vote; while the polling places may be in operation for exactly the same amount of time, the amount of time needed to vote may differ considerably due to local conditions such as the number of polling places per capita.

     The Wisconsin primary of April 7, 2020, provides an illustration.  Contrary to the recommendations of the President’s Pandemic Advisory Task Force to delay an election for a State Supreme Court seat,  Wisconsin held it as scheduled on  April 7, 2020.   Efforts to change the date due to Covid were rejected by the gerrymandered Republican legislature, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court. Consequently, contrary to the stay-at-home recommendation of the Center for Disease Control, the election proceeded on schedule, and voters waited in lines for up to two and a half hours, wearing surgical masks on their faces and maintaining six-foot "social distances" from each other.   The local TV news that evening featured footage of the long lines to vote at Riverside High School on Milwaukee's East Side.  As if the time cost we're not enough of a deterrent, Mother Nature delivered an inch of rain in an hour,  punctuated by hailstones.   While those voters endured long lines in bad weather, just a mile up the street in the northern suburb of Shorewood,  voters were voting in 10 minutes, parking in designated parking spaces, and then heading off to their next appointment.   

                Equal access?

                 Time has a great opportunity cost:  the greater the amount of time required to vote, the more other activities have to be cut back; the more parents need babysitters; the less time available for work or family.  When some vote in ten minutes with ease while others stand in bad weather for ten times as long; the opportunity costs are very different.  The greater that cost, the greater the disincentive to vote.

                The tools available to achieve more equal voting times include more conveniently located polling places,  mail-in ballots, ballots received by mail, drop boxes, and the ability to drop a completed ballot with a certified clerk. Since all of these have been used for years in various jurisdictions around the country,  those opposed to them should bear a burden of proof that they lead to integrity problems.    

    The 2020 election provides a controlled experiment. Anticipating long lines at polling centers, exposing voters to Covid while waiting to vote,  the state relaxed its rules on absentee voting by mail-in ballot and the use of drop boxes. Eight hundred thousand registered voters applied, providing an online photo of their driver’s license to receive a ballot in the mail.  The return envelope required a signature witnessed by another registered voter who also had to provide an address.  Any errors nullified the ballot, and fraud was deterred by stiff financial fines and possible jail.  The completed ballot was then either mailed or placed in a certified drop-box.   This pandemic-induced procedure worked well, and despite strenuous effort to find evidence of voter fraud, none has been found.    

      The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit arguing that the use of drop boxes was not in accordance with the requirements of ballot custody spelled out quite clearly in Wisconsin Statute.  They won: on February 11, 2022, the State Supreme Court agreed and banned the use of drop-boxes for the remainder of 2022.  

    The proponents of equal access to the ballot box should propose an evidence-based change in the law to permit the use of drop boxes.  Here WILL  helps: in addition to their successful lawsuit,  WILL also issued a report confirming that the use of drop boxes during the pandemic did not contribute to voter fraud!   Mail-ballot voting with drop boxes has been the norm in four states for twenty years: Washington, Utah, Oregon, and Colorado.   They report no significant problems. For example, Oregon found that out of 100 million ballots handled since the year 2000, there were 12 cases of voter fraud or 0.000012%. With tiny numbers like that, the benefit of mail-in voting vastly outweighs any damage done to democracy by potential fraud. Moreover, a problem would have to be based on “net fraud,” i.e., the difference between the tiny number of fraud cases in in-person voting versus the tiny number of fraud cases from absentee ballot/dropbox voting. The burden of proof should be on those who make this extremely dubious charge.  Finding none, let's get those drop boxes back in the business of reducing voter suppression and strengthening democracy.

                  (A very comprehensive account of the issue, including a discussion of WILL's report finding no voter fraud, can be found here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-best-summary-of-the-2020-election-biden-wisconsin-trump-lawsuit-voting-rights-fraud-absentee-dropboxes-ballot-curing-big-lie-11642966744?st=pjas9v2kn1k1wjr&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink)

    William L. Holahan is an Emeritus Professor and former Chair of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.




    With the split in the Republican Party growing by the day, the likelihood is increasing of a multiple-candidate presidential primary season in 2024.  In that event, no doubt a large number of presidential hopefuls will declare their candidacy in a contest similar to the 2016 primary which began with 17 candidates.   Meanwhile, the Democrats will also have a primary season beginning with several hopefuls, if not in 2024 then certainly in 2028. 

             Neither party has a rational procedure for choosing the final winner in these multiple candidate contests.  If the current rules apply, those primaries will be conducted over many months, each decided by plurality rule, not majority rule. A series of plurality vote wins does not lead to majority rule. Instead, plurality rule in a series of primaries among a large number of contestants is highly likely to prevent majority rule as a matter of simple arithmetic.

              To illustrate the general problem, consider a party with a core constituency of, say, 60% of its members. These are Republicans who yearn for a return to sanity and "principles" that they claim to believe in:  free markets; individuality; personal responsibility; law and order, de-regulation, lower taxes, smaller government, and so on.  Another 30% are fringe voters who grieve for the good old days, and a candidate who will vaguely promise to shake things up by protecting an imaginary  Second Amendment not tethered to recent Supreme Court decisions,  approving of police violence, freedom from vaccine and mask mandates, and abandoning logic and science as well as accurate history in schools.    A smattering of "undecided" makes up the other 10%.

             Now suppose that the 60% core voters are split among five candidates, each with about 12% of the core voters apiece. With the core vote split among the several candidates, a fringe candidate with only 30% of the vote can win an early primary contest determined by plurality rule.  A recent example is the 2016   Republican primary season when Donald Trump won a series of early primaries with only 25 to 30% of the vote while the more traditional established vote was split among several more candidates including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich. Because he retains solid support among at least 30% of Republicans,  Trump is primed to do that again in 2024.

    The Essence of the Problem

             The presidential primary season is a sequence of contests, each one influencing the next in the series. The winner of the first primary in the series  gains not only that election victory but also a first-mover advantage in the next election in the sequence: delegates toward the total number needed to eventually win the party nomination, growing donor support,  improvement in the polls,   media reports on the candidate's momentum, and priceless television interview time.   

             One by one, losing contenders drop out as donors give up on them and polls show them dropping.    As candidates drop out after losing in earlier contests which were determined by plurality rule, winners of contests later in the series will get larger vote percentages, perhaps even greater than 50%.  What is a majority vote in those contests is not a majority-rule result for the primary season; the contestants in those later contests were the survivors of earlier contests determined by plurality rule. 


             Instant runoff voting (IRV) retains majority rule in all of the contests in the series, regardless of how many candidates enter those contests.  IRV increases the likelihood that the winners of early primaries will represent the preferences of the majority of voters.    Here's how it works: instead of voting for just one person, the ballot permits the voter to vote for several contestants, ranking them in their order of preference.  After the polls close computers tally the first-choice votes. A winner is declared only if the top vote-getter has a majority of all votes cast. Otherwise, a new round of calculation ensues in which the last-place finisher is eliminated and their ranked votes are redistributed to the other candidates.   If this second round calculation produces a majority vote-getter, that candidate is the winner.  If not, additional rounds are calculated until a candidate does get a majority.

             Conventional runoffs are time-consuming, expensive, and inconvenient for the voter.  Consequently, neither party uses them.  The default has been to designate the plurality vote-getter as the winner and move on to the next primary contest.    By contrast, IRV is conducted by computer and results can be established very quickly after the polls close.   

               If the Republican party is to resuscitate itself into a principled, centrist organization, they should implement IRV for the 2024 presidential primary season. Similarly, whether it happens in 2024 or 2028, the Democratic party should appeal to their majority and do the same.

    William L. Holahan is an Emeritus Professor and former Chair of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.








             A core concern for most suburban parents is the education of their children, a concern heightened during the pandemic by school closures and online "virtual classroom" substitutes.     Evidence is mounting of a "COVID Slide" in student proficiency, especially in English and math.   The parents know that the online virtual classrooms have proven to be less effective than in-person instruction, and they want to help their children catch up. 

               Into this environment of concern and exasperation come well-financed right-wing efforts to take over local school boards.        The strategic wedge issue: the claim that "critical race theory" is being taught in the schools.   The claim is false:    CRT is a law-school-level analysis of how legal systems and practices such as bank lending rules and school segregation impact different racial and ethnic groups.  Because it requires law-school-level acumen, it is not and cannot be taught in the kindergarten through 12th grades.        

             It is not sufficient, however, for Democrats to simply counter-claim that CRT is not being taught in suburban schools.  This code phrase resonates with suburban parents because of the greater race consciousness that prevails these days. The Republicans have a strong motivation to make the claim:   to swing elections, not just for school boards but also for higher offices.   Republicans lost the Wisconsin popular vote in the presidential contest by just over 20,000 votes.  A pick-up of just a few percentage points in the suburbs would flip the state back to the Republicans as in 2016.     The CRT label will be amalgamated with other rhetorical handles to bash Democratic Party candidates, such as "defund the police," voting rights for non-citizens, and labeling policy proposals as "socialism."   

             During the heat of political campaigns, the threat posed to school curriculum by CRT will be portrayed not only as a threat to the self-esteem of white students but also as a massive shift of time and resources, limiting the time and resources needed to reverse the COVID-slide.   The survey done by ALG Research after the recent election of Virginia’s governor Youngkin shows that parents generally were not fearful of honest history, but rather were convinced that more instructional time is needed to reverse academic declines and increase proficiencies in core math and English.



             The   Democrats have an opportunity to take control of this conversation.   Based upon a long tradition of passionate support for excellence in public schools, they could credibly remind voters that it is they who have been strenuously promoting essential investments to ensure that all students have the assets they need, including laptops, fast broadband access, sufficient supplies, and well-paid teachers.

    Research on Tutoring

               Recently published research shows how tutoring can augment the effort to recover from COVID.   The Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University proposes large-scale tutoring programs. They propose online tutoring services staffed by 300,000   college students and other members of society who could interact with students struggling with their math and English.  "Structured tutoring programs can make a large difference in a short time, exactly what is needed to help students quickly catch up with grade level expectations."

     (https://www.the74million.org/article/slavin-an-open-letter-to-president-elect-biden-a-tutoring-marshall-plan-to-heal-our-students/).  Matthew A. Kraft, and Grace Falken of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, agree: "Tutoring is among the most effective education interventions ever to be subjected to rigorous evaluation."     (https://www.edworkingpapers.com/sites/default/files/ai20-335.pdf)

             The pandemic-induced decline in achievement hits poor students the hardest, both in urban and rural areas. Unless reversed, educational gaps will widen further, and deepen current income and wealth gaps. The tutoring proposal from Johns Hopkins and Brown would not only upgrade the schools generally but make the more advanced courses in math and English accessible to more students, opening doors to disciplines and professions that are highly productive, pay well, and can lead to greater equality in income and wealth.   


              Core competencies like English composition and math cannot simply be transferred like physical capital.  A system-wide tutoring program would help schools provide the resources for students to be immersed in the practices of solving math problems and essay writing, while benefitting from more labor-intensive instruction and evaluation of their work. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona agrees, and urges states to spend COVID money on tutoring. 

    (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/01/27/world/omicron-covid-vaccine-tests ) 

              Democracy is strengthened when honest history dispels some of the delusions of the inaccurately-portrayed past.  The core goal of education should be to develop students who can think critically for themselves, and express their thoughts well by applying a strong working knowledge of the core languages of their education:  English and math.   

              Implemented in Wisconsin, the "Marshall Plan for Tutoring"   suggested by research powerhouses at Johns Hopkins and Brown Universities would present to parents and students a welcome, positive alternative to the dreary, racially-charged critical race theory assertion.

    William L. Holahan is Emeritus Professor and former Chair of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.