Unintended consequences of making voting easier

Like me, Contrarian reader Stan Jones voted at one of the continuous advance polling stations his riding (though presumably he did so sans caméra).  These polls were among the innovations Elections Nova Scotia introduced to combat flagging turnout, by making it easier for people to vote. They proved popular, but as Jones points out, they had the unintended consequence of lessening the analytical usefulness of poll-by-poll returns:

[I]t does seem to complicate poll-by-poll analysis, since it looks to me as if all those votes are reported with the Returning Office as the poll, rather than some district poll.

For example, in Yarmouth, some 1,660 votes were recorded at the RO, about 19 percent of the total. Another 685 were recorded at the two scheduled advance polls. In all, 27 percent of the votes can’t be associated with a particular area poll.

This didn’t matter too much in Yarmouth, where Zach Churchill copped 82 percent of the votes cast—as Jones points out, he had more votes at the advance polls than the second place finisher, Tory John Cunningham had in the entire district—but it would make analysis more difficult in ridings where the vote was closer.

Jones thinks the relative compactness of the Yarmouth riding may have increased take-up at the continuous poll, aided by some special factors:

Lots (and lots) of people were on Main Street in downtown Yarmouth for the street hockey tournament during the election and the RO is just a block off Main Street. It was easy to drop in to the RO between games (that’s what I did). It might also have helped that the Yarmouth Corral (a very popular local mobile food truck) was parked right across of the RO during the tournament – I had a pulled pork sandwich right after I voted.

Truly, all politics is local, right down to the pulled pork sandwich. Turnout in Yarmouth was 65 percent, versus 59 percent province-wide.

In the ridings I checked, a significant portion of the ballots were cast at riding offices, continuous polls, or scheduled advance polls where they could not be tied to a geographic location. In Sydney-Whitney Pier, where the contest was thought to be close, 30 percent voted in non-geotagged polling stations.  In vast Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie, 20 percent; equally far-flung Victoria the Lakes, also 20 percent; Antigonish, 37 percent; Argyle, 17 percent.; Glace Bay, 34 percent.

A dissenting view

In response to this post, Stan Jones of Yarmouth writes:

You said: “I truly believe Darrell Dexter and Denise Peterson-Rafuse are better people than they have shown themselves to be in the last three days.”

You are wrong.

Actually, I think I’m right, but neither politician is giving me much ammunition to make the case for them. They should apologize to Abbass and the Talbot board, remove Lathem and her supervisors from any future involvement with the recovery centre, and name a knowledgable, skeptical authority to take a long, hard look at this badly run department.

What slim looked like in 1940 – ctd.

Contrarian reader Stan Jones offers further evidence of 21st Century North America’s altered perception of weight: Footage of the Benny Goodman Orchestra playing Sing, Sing, Sing in 1937. Those are some skinny musicians. Note especially Harry James, whose solo begins 38 seconds into the tune:

(That is, of course, Gene Krupa on drums, and Goodman himself on clarinet.)

As a former TV host, Glennie Langille has first hand experience with society’s social expectations around weight. She offers a skeptical view of the notion that skinny equals healthful:

My first observation is that the original photo of Kennedy makes him appear to have an enormous head. This is a look normally associated with especially thin tv actresses creating the “lollipop” effect. As a former tv host, I am aware this is also the look preferred for that profession. But it strikes me the real reason the boy was thin was because he smoked and he was young.  Those two things make for a slim appearance. It should not be confused with a healthy person.

Greg Beaulieu also wonders about the role of that other health policy priority, smoking cessation:

As Scott [Logan] states, it is a hugely complex issue, but fundamentally it comes down to what you eat and how much physical activity you perform. Over the generations both of those variables have changed dramatically. While this generation has made a mega-industry out of the exercise/fitness segment, it also consumes things that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers would find astounding. To use just one example, I am old enough to remember when hamburgers and french fires were a rare treat, and not a lunch staple as they are for some these days.

I found one aspect of Scott’s comments thought-provoking. He noted the changes made in society’s attitudes towards smoking. While smoking is undeniably a filthy, deadly habit, I wonder if I am the only one who has noticed that as the smoking rate goes down, the obesity rate goes up? It is not surprising given the well-known connection between quitting smoking and gaining weight. But I wonder if the success our governments and public health agencies have had in demonizing smoking has inadvertently led to the increase in obesity? Are these unintended consequences that are their fault? Is the fat, so to speak, on their hands? And if so, what does it mean for other attempts by such agencies to affect the behavior of the population as a whole?

Since we will all die eventually, perhaps some enterprising economic analyst could delve into the cost-benefit quotient of spending public funds on attempting to keep people from killing themselves. Just a thought.

There’s little doubt that people who quit smoking often put on weight, but so do plenty of people who never smoked. Blaming the entire change, or much of it, on those pesky policy-makers who nagged us to quit smoking seems a tad convenient.

Coast news editor on anonymous sources

Tim Bousquet’s rules for using anonymous sources:

  1. The information gained through granting anonymity is not otherwise available. Or, put another way, granting anonymity is not a shortcut to doing the hard work of gathering solid information and good reporting.
  2. The anonymous source must have something to lose, should anonymity not be given: loss of a job, etc.
  3. Using an anonymous source must result in some positive public good. “Spinning” someone’s view is not a positive public good.

Bousquet adds:

When I was a reporter at a daily in the states, I had a publisher who wouldn’t allow me to use anonymous sources at all. At the time, I felt that policy unduly constrained me, but I soon discovered it made me a better reporter: I couldn’t just put any old shit out there, I had to document everything, peg every assertion to a named source or document, etc. Mostly, as anonymity is used today by much of the press, it’s an excuse for lazy reporting.

Contrarian reader Stan Jones also weighs in on Ibbitson’s practice of letting Harper operatives issue dubious and partisan talking points without identifying themselves:

I have always thought Ibbitson’s main role was to transcribe whatever was the day’s conservative talking point into grammatical English. So I never read him, preferring to go directly to the source for my daily dose of nonsense.