Election Data Analysis Election Forensics Election Integrity Interesting programming technical Uncategorized

Vanishing Voter ID’s in sequential 2021 DAL files

During the 2021 election I archived multiple versions of the Statewide Daily Absentee List (DAL) files as produced by the VA Department of Elections (ELECT). As the name implies, the DAL files are a daily produced official product from ELECT that accumulates data representing the state of absentee votes over the course of the election. i.e. The data that exists in a DAL file produced on Tuesday morning should be contained in the DAL file produced on the following Wednesday along with any new entries from the events of Tuesday, etc.

Therefore, it is expected that once a Voter ID number is listed in the DAL file during an election period, subsequent DAL files *should* include a record associated with that voter ID. The status of that voter and the absentee ballot might change, but the records of the transactions during the election should still be present. I have confirmed that this is the expected behavior via discussions with multiple former and previous VA election officials.

Stepping through the snapshots of collected 2021 DAL files in chronological order, we can observe Voter IDs that mysteriously “vanish” from the DAL record. We can do this by simply mapping the existence/non-existence of unique Voter ID numbers in each file. The plot below in Figure 1 is the counts of the number of observed “vanishing” ID numbers as we move from file to file. The total number of vanishing ID numbers is 429 over the course of the 2021 election. Not a large number. But it’s 429 too many. I can think of no legitimate reason that this should occur.

Now an interesting thing to do, is to look at a few examples of how these issues manifest themselves in the data. Note that I’m hiding the personally identifiable information from the DAL file records in the screenshots below, BTW.

The first example in the screenshot below is an issue where the voter in question has a ballot that is in the “APPROVED” and “ISSUED” state, meaning that they have submitted a request for a ballot and that the ballot has been sent out. The record for this voter ID is present in the DAL file up until Oct 14th 2021, after which it completely vanishes from the DAL records. This voter ID is also not present in the RVL or VHL downloaded from the state on 11/06/2021.

This voter was apparently issued a real, live, ballot for 2021 and then was subsequently removed from the DAL and (presumably) the voter rolls + VERIS on or around the 14th Oct according to the DAL snapshots.  What happened to that ballot? What happened to the record of that ballot? The only public record of that ballot even existing, let alone the fact that it was physically issued and mailed out, was erased when the Voter ID was removed from DAL/RVL/VHL records.  Again, this removal happened in the middle of an election where that particular voter had already been issued a live ballot!

A few of these IDs actually “reappear” in the DAL records.  ID “230*****” is one example, and a screenshot of its chronological record is below.  The ballot shows as being ISSUED until Oct 14th 2021.  It then disappears from the DAL record completely until the data pull on Oct 24th, where it shows up again as DELETED.  This status is maintained until Nov 6th 2021 when it starts oscillating between “Marked” and “deleted” until it finally lands on “Marked” in the Dec 5 DAL file pull.  The entire time the Application status is in the “Approved” state for this voter ID.  From my discussions with registrars and election officials the “Marked” designation signifies that a ballot has been received by the registrar for that voter and is slated to be tabulated.

I have poked ELECT on twitter (@wwrkds) on this matter to try and get an official response, and submitted questions on this matter to Ashley Coles at ELECT, per the advice of my local board of elections chair. Her response to me is below:

I will update this post as information changes.