Well, the election is over and it was an interesting day. After an encounter with law enforcement and clarification on the difference between exit polling and electioneering, I was finally able to start collecting data. The law is very specific in that campaigners must be at least 100 feet from the entrance to the polls. That would have put me across the street in one direction, in the middle of the street in one direction, and at the end of the block in the other direction. But, I was not a campaigner. The police chief insisted my activities fell under that law. The legal department at Edison Research and the Government Accountability Board had to call the election officials to let them know it was legal for me to be there. This is what the Government Accountability Board has to say about it exit polling:
What are the rules regarding exit polls?
Wisconsin’s law regulating the conduct of persons on Election Day is designed to ensure that nothing interferes with the orderly conduct of the election, and that nothing distracts voters from exercising their right to vote at the polls on Election Day. S. 5.35(5), Wis. Stats.
Persons conducting surveys, circulating petitions or engaging in similar activity may not do so inside the polling place, and may not interfere with the orderly conduct of the election. Electioneering is prohibited within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place on public property on election day. S. 12.03(2), Wis. Stats. The Government Accountability Board staff recommends that surveys and other activities should be conducted outside the 100 ft. area where electioneering is prohibited.
Exit polls are surveys conducted by news organizations and others to determine how electors have voted. Wisconsin law does not prohibit the conduct of exit polls by a news organization. The Government Accountability Board and its staff have taken the position that exit polls may not be conducted within the building containing the polling place. It is recommended that persons conducting exit polls do so outside of the entrance to the building containing the polling place. Exit pollsters do not have to be positioned outside the 100 ft. electioneering area. However, persons conducting exit polls must not block the entrance or interfere with the access of voters entering and leaving the polling place.
Most people have no idea where the exit poll information was, so they were pretty excited to have input. Some people ‘looked the other way’ and kept on going. This polling place had two entrances, so I was only able to approach about half of the voters. My sampling rate was to approach every voter. I had to record misses and refusals categorized by gender, 3 age-group breaks, and whether they were black or non-black. The questionnaires are confidential – no name was required and the surveys were folded and dropped into a box. At my polling place, the vote was heavily Democrat. Most of the voters who refused were in the older age group (50+). Their roster lists about 1050 registered voters, 922 people voted.
There were 3 versions of the questionnaire:
We called in 3 times during the day with the number of voters who had already voted, the counts for Obama and Romney, and the counts for Baldwin and Thompson. We also read the results from a percentage of the surveys. We called in a final vote count at the end of the night. I do want to point out that these surveys were completely voluntary and confidential. Voters were not required to fill them out and answering each question was voluntary.