That's a lot of hats for one company to wear and the potential conflicts should be obvious to anyone even if we don't actually suspect deliberate abuse. In other words, Lamar is not wrong to ask about this. The knee-jerk aggressive reaction to that post I've seen from people (especially when it's a post by someone with Lamar's scrupulously reasonable even-handed voice) is kind of surprising.
Update: So here is Lamar's follow up post where he clears up some questions about the early vote reporting process. It's pretty interesting.
Earlier tonight, I spoke with Meg Casper, the Press Secretary for Secretary of State Tom Schedler. According to Ms. Casper, their office was also extremely frustrated by the delays in reporting election results on Saturday night, but these delays were, ultimately, not within their control. The issue, as I now understand, is that early votes are counted by the Orleans Parish Board of Supervisors of Elections at the Registar’s Office. The Board begins counting votes around 2:30PM on election day, and if you are inclined to watch them count votes, you’re more than welcome to show up as long as you turn off your cell phone and agree to be sequestered until the polls close at 8PM.
However, the Clerk of Court- not the Registrar- is actually responsible for providing election results to the Secretary of State’s offices via an encrypted network. In most parishes, the Registrar’s Office is directly down the hall from the Clerk of Court’s Office, which means, for all intents and purposes, that when the polls close on election night, the early votes are uploaded almost immediately. In Orleans Parish, however, the Registrar’s offices are located at City Hall, on Perdido Street, and the Clerk of Court’s offices are on Tulane.
Here’s what apparently happened on Saturday night: Someone had the smart and obvious idea to show up and watch the Board of Supervisors of Elections count the early and absentee ballots. When the clock struck 8PM and the polls officially closed, this observer was able to transmit these results to Mr. Rigamer, who then, ostensibly, plugged them into his model and made the projection. When WWL and Mr. Rigamer made the call at 8:16PM, it’s more than likely that neither the Clerk of Court nor the Secretary of State had even seen the results; at 8:16PM, the “cartridges” containing early voting numbers were probably sitting in the passenger seat of a car on Poydras.
The conflict of interests questions are still valid, though. The state might be well served to revisit its rules here although it's probably a tangled issue to sort out.
In my ideal world, anybody with an internet connection should be able to access the SOS website and find this stuff as quickly as possible. And the reason this is a concern in my mind is whoever is contracted to help the SOS do this should have one interest and one interest only: Accurately informing the public.
No one is accusing Rigamer of anything but clearly his company has an interest in competing with other media or political consulting firms at appearing to be the "fastest" analyst or the possessor of the best (proprietary, of course) statistical model.
If I had my way, this would disqualify them from performing a public information service. It's de-facto privatization of public records data.
But I'm a big supporter of pinko information services like public television, radio, libraries and such. Sure that stuff is all pretty out of fashion these days but one can aspire to things.