Michael Morse

I’m currently a law clerk to the Honorable Myron H. Thompson.  I recently graduated from Yale Law School and am finishing my dissertation––on felon disenfranchisement and fines and fees––in Harvard’s Department of Government

Publications

Goel, Sharad, et al. 2020. “One Person, One Vote: Estimating the Prevalence of Double Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections”. American Political Science Review. Listen to This American Life discuss the paper.Abstract

There are about three million cases in a national voter fie in which 2012 vote records share a common first name, last name, and date of birth. We develop a probabilistic birthdate model to estimate how many of these cases represent the same person voting twice. If registration records are never erroneously marked as being used to vote, we estimate about 0.02% of the votes cast in 2012 were double votes. An audit of poll books, however, suggests that such measurement error could explain many of these apparent double votes. Using data returned to Iowa by the Interstate Crosscheck Program, we quantify the tradeoff  between voter accessibility and electoral integrity when purging a likely duplicate registration from another state. We find that one of Crosscheck's proposed purging strategies would eliminate about 300 registrations used to cast a seemingly legitimate vote for every one registration used to cast a double vote.

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, and Michael Morse. Forthcoming. “Picking Prosecutors”. Iowa L. Rev. 105.Abstract

The conventional academic wisdom is that elections for local prosecutor are little more than empty exercises. Using the results of a new, national survey of local prosecutor elections––the first of its kind––this Article offers a more complete account of the legal and empirical landscape. It confirms that incumbent prosecutors rarely face challengers and almost always win. But it moves beyond extant work to consider the nature of local political conflict, including how often local prosecutors face a contested election or any degree of competition. It also demonstrates a significant difference in the degree of incumbent entrenchment based on time in office. Most importantly, it reveals a stark divide between rural and urban prosecution. Urban areas are more likely to hold a contested election than rural areas. Rural areas, in which very few lawyers live, rarely hold contested elections and sometimes are not able to field even a single candidate for a prosecutor election. The results suggest that the nascent movement to use prosecutor elections as a source of criminal justice reform may have success, at least in the short term. But elections are, as of now, not a likely source of reform in rural areas—the very areas where incarceration rates continue to rise.

Meredith, Marc, and Michael Morse. 2017. “Discretionary Disenfranchisement: The Case of Legal Financial Obligations”. Journal of Legal Studies 46 : 309-38.Abstract
Conditioning voting rights on the payment of legal financial obligations (LFOs) may be unconstitutional if there are no exceptions for indigency. Appellate courts, though, generally have upheld felon disenfranchisement laws that withhold voting rights until all fees, fines, and restitution are paid in full. These decisions, however, have been made with limited evidence available about the type, burden, and disparate impact of criminal debt. We address this by detailing who owes LFOs, how much they owe, and for what purpose using representative, statewide samples in Alabama. The median amount of LFOs assessed to discharged felons across all of their criminal convictions is $3,956, more than half of which stems from court fees. As a result, most ex-felons remain disenfranchised after completing their sentence. People who are disproportionately indigent -- those utilizing a public defender and blacks -- are even less likely to be eligible to restore their voting rights.
Hopkins, Daniel J., et al. 2017. “Voting But For the Law: Evidence from Virginia on Photo Identification Requirements”. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 14 (1) : 79-128.Abstract

One contentious question in contemporary election administration is the impact of voter identification requirements. We study a Virginia law which allows us to isolate the impact of requiring voters to show photo identification. Using novel, precinct-level data, we find that the percentage of registered voters without a driver's license and over age 85 are both positively associated with the number of provisional ballots cast due to lacking a photo ID. To examine the law's impact on turnout, we associate precinct-level demographics with the change in turnout between the 2013 gubernatorial and 2014 midterm elections. All else equal, turnout was higher in places where more active registered voters lacked a driver's license. This unexpected relationship might be explained by a targeted Department of Elections mailing, suggesting that the initial impact of voter ID laws may hinge on efforts to notify voters likely to be affected.

Ho, Daniel, and Michael Morse. 2017. “New Measurement Technologies: A Review and Application to Nuremberg and Justice Jackson”. In The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Abstract

This chapter reviews measurement technologies that have rapidly invigorated the study of judicial behavior, examining the standard approach to measuring judicial "ideal points" and discussing how such measures have facilitated broad new lines of inquiry in understanding judicial decision-making. But the measures, as this chapter explains, are no panacea. Proper use and interpretation depend critically on qualitative assumptions and understanding of underlying case law. This chapter argues that the way forward combines jurisprudentially meaningful data collection with advances in measurement technologies. These concepts are illustrated by empirically informing a long-standing debate about the effect of the Nuremberg trial on Justice Jackson’s jurisprudence.

Greenberg, Claire, Marc Meredith, and Michael Morse. 2016. “The Growing and Broad Nature of Legal Financial Obligations: Evidence from Court Records in Alabama”. Connecticut Law Review 48 (4).Abstract

In 2010, Harriet Cleveland was imprisoned in Montgomery, Alabama for failing to pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees stemming from routine traffic violations. More than thirty years after a series of Supreme Court rulings outlawed debtor's prisons, Ms. Cleveland's case brought national attention to both the sheer amount of legal financial obligations (LFOs) that could be accrued, even in cases without a criminal conviction, and the potential consequences of non-payment. But it has been nearly impossible to know how common Ms. Cleveland's experience is because of a general lack of individual-level data on the incidence and payback of LFOs, particularly for non-felonies. In this vein, we gather about two hundred thousand court records from Alabama over the last two decades to perform the most comprehensive exploration of the assessments and payback of LFOs to date across an entire state. Consistent with conventional wisdom, we demonstrate that the median LFOs attached to a case with a felony conviction nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, after which it has remained roughly steady. But a felony-centric view of criminal justice underestimates the extent of increasing LFOs in the United States. Our systematic comparison of LFOs in felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases across Alabama demonstrates how the signficant debt Ms. Cleveland accumulated for a series of minor traffic offenses is not such an aberration. We show that only a minority of LFOs are assessed in cases where someone was convicted of a felony and incarcerated. Rather, most LFOs are assessed in cases without an imposed sentence, in cases with a misdemeanor or traffic violation, or even in cases that did not result in a conviction at all. These case records also reveal substantial heterogeneity in the assessment of LFOs - both within and across local judicial districts - even in cases in which defendants were convicted on exactly the same charge.

Working Papers

Henninger, Phoebe, Marc Meredith, and Michael Morse. Working Paper. “Who Votes Without Identification? Using Affidavits from Michigan to Learn About the Potential Impact of Strict Photo Voter Identification Laws”.Abstract
Prior work often mischaracterizes who is burdened by strict voter identication
(ID) laws, either by assuming that everyone who does not possess ID is burdened
by the law or that those who do possess ID cannot be burdened. But many people
without ID are unlikely to vote, and some people with ID may not have access to
it on Election Day. Given this, we better measure who is burdened by studying
Michigan's 2016 presidential election, where someone who lacked access to ID could
nonetheless vote after signing an adavit. A random sample of adavits reveal
that about 0.45 percent of voters lacked access to ID, nearly all of whom possessed
state-issued identi cation. Non-white voters are about ve times more likely to lack
access to ID than white voters. While lacking access to ID did not legally prevent
anyone from voting, survey evidence suggests that not all voters understand this.

Other Writing

Meredith, Marc, and Michael Morse. 2019. “Learning About Undervotes from Ballot-Level Data: Evidence from the 2018 Florida Midterm Election”. MIT Election Data + Science Lab .Abstract
After election administrators tally the ballots cast in a given election, they typically make aggregated vote totals available to the general public. These summaries have become increasingly accessible and more granular over time. Acquiring information about how many votes each candidate received in each precinct is now generally quite easy, particularly in a statewide race. But aggregating votes within a particular contest necessarily obscures information about the pattern of votes across contests. Improved voting technology now makes it increasingly easy for election administrators to also distribute the raw ballot-level data produced during the tabulation process. We show that providing researchers access to these data allows us to improve our understanding of voter behavior in a way that informs best practices in election administration.
Goel, Sharad, et al. 2016. “Chasing Electoral Ghosts”. Slate.Abstract

We looked at 130 million ballots from the 2012 election and found practically zero evidence of fraud.

Meredith, Marc, and Michael Morse. 2015. “Ted Cruz cited this research when he said most violent criminals are Democrats. Now the researchers say he’s wrong.”. Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post.Abstract

In the wake of last week’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday claimed that the “overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats.” When asked for evidence, the senator’s campaign cited a paper we published in 2014, in which we present data on the party affiliation of ex-felons in three states.

The paper Cruz cited is one in a series of papers in which we have combined public records – from departments of corrections, state courts, and secretaries of state – to directly measure ex-felons’ party registration and turnout history. But our research does not support Cruz’s claim.