Thursday, July 28 8:40 AM-10:10 AM
Chair: Dr. Michael G. Miller, Barnard College
As early voting has become a staple of American elections, empirical studies of its effects have zeroed in on questions related primarily to voter turnout – for example, whether this and other forms of convenience voting increase aggregate turnout (e.g. Burden et al. 2014), and whether such reforms influence the partisan composition of voters (Kaplan and Yuan 2020). Fewer studies, however, have drilled down on the ways in which early voting affects elections themselves.
In this paper, we present two studies that speak to the interaction between early voters and late voters emerging from early voting reforms. First, using a sample from the 2020 CCES, we explore how early and late voters perceive the act of voting early, the benefits and downsides associated with casting an early vote, and the persons who do and do not avail themselves of early voting opportunities. Second, we study the social effects of early voting using an hour-long experiment (conducted in summer 2021) that combined a DPTE-style campaign experience with a small-group deliberation in which information from the campaign was shared among participants.
- Todd Makse, Florida International University
- Anand Sokhey, University of Colorado at Boulder
- Drew Seib, Murray State University
This paper explores the relationship between election results in 2020 and the passage of election laws that either expanded or restricted (sometimes both) access to the polls in subsequent state legislative sessions. The primary dependent variable is the net valence of laws passed in the wake of the 2020 election, restrictive or expansive. The primary independent variables are the partisan composition of state government, the closeness of the 2020 election, and the interaction of the two.
Although there has been considerable attention to efforts to restrict access to the polls, many states have actually passed laws expanding access. This paper will advance the field by coding the net results of state legislative activity in 2021 and 2022, characterizing the landscape of proposed vs. enacted legislation, and showing the relationship between the two.
One additional topic the paper will address is the degree to which the diffusion of the “big lie” has led to less competitive states to jump on the restrictive bandwagon. That is, we hypothesize that the 2021 legislative sessions were primarily motivated by the immediate reaction to the outcome of the 2020 election, thus leading to a sharp divide in the types of state that passed restrictive or expansive legislation. By 2022, partisan attitudes about election administration were more diffuse, leading to a reduction in the relationship between the valence of legislative actions and the partisan competitiveness and control of the state.
- Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Christina James, Spelman College, MIT Summer Research Program, Boston University
Scholarly work has missed the key reason for the extraordinary levels of political polarization and poor governance in American politics in recent years. Contrary to the appearance that strong party leaders dictate member behavior, we argue that weak party discipline produces polarizing rhetoric in lieu of actionable policy proposals. We attribute this weak discipline to the rising number of safe House districts that play into the hands of extreme primary electorates. First, we provide comprehensive historical evidence of the rise of safe seats in U.S. House districts and show that this trend coincides with the greater divergence of legislators’ preferences not just between but also within parties. Second, we demonstrate that representatives from safer districts-and especially those from the GOP-have more ideologically extreme and divergent preferences across multiple alternative measures. We then use redistricting as a plausible source of exogenous variation in electoral competition and corroborate that seat safety causes ideological extremism. Finally, we explore the potential mechanisms behind this relationship, showing that the more-extreme ideological tendencies in safer seats are likely present due to a combination of more extreme electorates, primary challengers, and donor influence there, which can all undermine legislators’ willingness to support their party agendas.
- Alexander Kustov, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
- Maikol Cerda, Yale University
- Akhil Rajan, Yale University
- Frances Rosenbluth, Yale University
Political science has strong theoretical expectations about the conditions in which people vote “correctly,” that is, in a way consistent with their true preferences and all information known, and the extent to which they display what Converse (1964) defined as “constraint,” i.e., the ability of people to make choices that fit together in a clear ideological way. Yet, outside of surveys, we have little evidence about how people actually behave in the voting booth, because voting is a private act.
State election audit systems that provide electronic records of each cast vote (CVRs) offer a novel way to overcome this limitation. We exploit the availability of CVRs in South Carolina and San Francisco, California to conduct novel tests of correct voting and ideological constraint among the mass public. In both jurisdictions, we merge available cfscores to candidates on the ballot in a given election cycle. We then utilize several million individual cast votes in each election to infer voters’ partisan preferences, and then to determine the extent to which people vote for the “correct” (or most ideologically proximate) candidate in non-partisan races (where there is no party signal on the ballot).
We further employ the San Francisco data to study the extent to which voters show constraint. California elections are ideal for this effort because of the large number of ballot initiatives that voters must decide on in any given election. By coding the voter’s partisanship and capturing their choices on initiatives, we can gain unprecedented insight into voting behavior. Our paper will result in substantially improved insight into both whether people vote correctly in “real” elections, and whether they can reach constrained decisions on ballot questions, absent strong partisan signals.
- Michael G. Miller, Barnard College
- Jonah King, University of Mississippi
- Conor Dowling, University of Mississippi
Thursday, July 28 8:40 AM-10:10 AM
Chair: Samuel Baltz, MIT Election Data and Science Lab
Paper #1: Succession Planning
Succession planning in local governments has a direct impact on organizational effectiveness and planning. Organizations need talent to be successful in the short and long-term. Whether it is a payroll clerk, a professional planner, or an election official, it seems logical that an agency or firm is more likely to accomplish its mission if employees have the skills, training, experience, and motivation necessary. Organizations in fields with many firms or whose employees largely come from clear professional tracks usually attempt to find the best and brightest among an established talent pool and make adjustments to their skills and training once hired. In fields with specialized missions, few firms, and less direct links to standard practice in professions or trades, organizations may need to be more proactive to find, train, develop, and motivate employees to accomplish their mission. While succession planning is important for all organizations, it would seem even more critical for organizations in the latter scenario, like local governments. The problem would seem pressing based on demographic trends and related professions. About 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65 every day (AARP, 2021). Yet, three studies of local organizations demonstrate a failure to conduct succession planning regardless of their size and budget. The problem is more acute when we consider that about 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65 every day (AARP, 2021) coupled with COVID 19. This presentation discusses what succession planning is, why we need to plan, who plans, and discusses why the majority of organizations fail to plan regardless of size or budget.
- Suzanne Leland, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
As former President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, election officials around the nation have suffered the brunt of violent and hateful attacks, to such an extreme that many have been forced to leave their jobs after receiving credible and persistent death threats. Who is threatening election officials, and what prompts those threats? We examine these questions using a corpus of the rhetoric directed at election officials over time, by systematically collecting replies to election officials’ Tweets. We use sentiment analysis to score the tone of these replies, to measure the volume and intensity of the negativity that targets election officials. We can then measure who sends negative or positive Tweets, using methods for estimating the ideology of a Twitter user to check whether harsh replies tend to come from the left or the right. Changes over time in the sentiment of these replies suggest which political events prompt more or less negative rhetoric to be directed at election officials. We supplement the everyday rhetoric in this corpus with news coverage of truly violent threats against election officials. We also compare the rhetoric directed at officials in different situations with an eye towards understanding how these threats can be reduced, for example by measuring how often a state is mentioned in Democracy Fund’s electionline, and then estimating the difference in rhetoric directed at officials in high salience states compared to low salience states.
- Joelle Gross, MIT Election Data and Science Lab
- Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Samuel Baltz, MIT Election Data and Science Lab
The New York State Board of Elections (SBOE) has ensured safe and transparent elections across the state since 1974. SBOE, as a bipartisan organization with a mission to protect the integrity of elections, regularly commits resources to protect NYS’ election processes from cybersecurity threats. As part of their charge to protect the integrity of elections, NYSBOE has consistently prioritized end-to-end security of voter registration. Through their statewide cybersecurity initiatives, NYSBOE has made a significant impact in securing NYS counties as a whole in addition to adding layers of protection to voter registration. While NYSBOE continues to lead these critical programs aimed at securing the current technical environment, they also recognize that it is important to envision a potential future technical environment, such as an enterprise approach to voter registration. Therefore, in order to build a shared understanding of the management, technology and legal environments in voter registration currently in place in NYS and across the United States, NYSBOE leaders reached out to the Center for Technology in Government (CTG UAlbany) at the University at Albany, SUNY to conduct a formal analysis of voter registration environments. Six parallel investigations were led by CTG UAlbany’s multi sector and interdisciplinary team:
1. Clarifying Voter Registration Designations and Identifying Voter Registration Components and Alternatives
2. Examining How Federal and State Laws Shape Voter Registration in NY
3. Understanding Voter Registration in Practice Across the US
4. Modeling Voter Registration Processes in NYS Counties
5. Testing the Security and Resiliency of Voter Registration Alternatives
6. Understanding the Security and Resiliency of Voter Registration in NYS Counties
This paper presents a summary of the analysis generated as well as ten high level findings critical to inform future discussions and investment decisions in voter registration in NYS.
- Meghan E. Cook, Center for Technology in Government, University at Albany, State University of New York
- Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky, New York State Board of Elections
- Todd Valentine, New York State Board of Election
- Battulga Buyannemekh, University at Albany, State University of New York
Thursday, July 28 10:15 AM-11:15 AM
Chair: Scott McDonell, Dane County, Wisconsin Clerk
Local election officials (LEOs) across the United States have catapulted from a relatively calm administrative environment to being front and center in national debates over the security and legitimacy of elections. This paper explores four years of survey data following these LEOs from 2018 to 2022. Over this time period, a broad range of issues have challenged local election officials – from foreign cybersecurity concerns, to a global pandemic, and now broad public scrutiny that for some officials has raised security concerns. We find that over this time period, LEOs have shared a steadfast commitment to voter-centric issues – a shift from earlier LEOs in the mid-2000s. We also find that while they are generally satisfied with their work, the pressures on them personally are raising rates of retirement or departure from the field. We also find that while LEOs are confident in the administration of their own elections, they share many of the concerns of voters nationwide when it comes to security and access to polling options. These trends suggest that policy proposals to either increase access to voting, or to increase security, will require addressing jurisdiction level concerns and overcome some broader worries about election integrity in the US. This review of the 2018-2022 Local Election Official Survey is also compared with previous LEO survey efforts in the US to provide a first look across over almost two decades of LEO research.
- Paul Manson, Reed College, Election & Voting Information Center
- Paul Gronke, Reed College, Election & Voting Information Center
Recent studies have explored how local election officials (LEOs) view election reform policies and their impacts, and at least one study to date has shown that the opinions of LEOs can differ from those of the general public on some reform policies (Manion et. al 2021). In this paper, we utilize data from a survey conducted with LEOs in Michigan in the spring of 2020. The data for this study come from the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS). While this dataset has consistently included measures of opinion from municipal officials across Michigan on a variety of topics in the past, the 2020 survey was the first to include local election officials in the survey sample. This paper examines how LEOs perceive recently adopted election reforms passed in Michigan through citizen initiative (Proposition 3); the reforms include allowing voters to register up to 15 days before an election, offering in-person same-day voter registration, as well as adopting no-excuse absentee voting. This paper examines the opinions of LEOs toward these policies, as well as the self-reported impacts of these reforms. This analysis examines the perceptions of LEOs towards these reforms across the size of election jurisdiction as well as across partisan affiliation of LEOs. It is important to understand how LEOs perceive election reform policies because they are ultimately responsible for the implementation of the policy.
- Joseph Anthony, Oklahoma State University
- Michael Kwame Dzordzormenyoh, Oklahoma State University
The 2020 election proved to be among the most contentious in modern U.S. History. Amidst the dual challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and allegations from political elites sowing distrust in elections, election administrators bore the brunt of the burden in ensuring a relatively fair and smooth election. Given the unprecedented challenges of the 2020 election, the question arises as to what extent the 2020 election presented new versus exacerbating old challenges facing the world of election administration. We seek to uncover the extent to which 2020 presented a paradigm shift via a series of focus groups and organized discussions with election administrators, vendors, and scholars across the country. As part of an NSF accelerator grant sponsored discussion, we held discussions asking election administrators from a purposive sample the greatest challenges and novelties from the 2020 election on the dimensions of humans and voting machines, in-person voting, outreach and information, technology and security. We proceeded to model out the sequence in which the respondents’ concerns relate to failures and bottlenecks within the administrative process and process trace the consequences. We find that while the level of novelty of the obstacles were limited, the degree to which cascading election failures arising from distrust and lack of resources are unprecedented. We recommend from our analysis of focus groups increased prioritization on tracking bottlenecks via queuing theory techniques and database management innovation and standardization to avert the perceived worst issues from the 2020 election.
- John Curiel, Ohio Northern University
- Declan Chin, MIT Election Data Science Lab
Thursday, July 28 11:30 AM-12:35 PM
Kristin Mavromatis, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections
Olivia McCall, Deputy Director, Wake County Board of Elections
The significance of voter education in restoring trust between election officials and voters, and empowering voters to distinguish between false narratives and factual election-related information is broadly recognized in the growing field of Election Sciences among academics and legal scholars, civil society, as well as state and local election officials. Local election officials view voter education as a key responsibility, and whereas they have several tools at their disposal, they often lack the resources, or expertise, to use them. This project is part of a broader research initiative that involves the study of LEO-directed voter education efforts across different modes, with an emphasis on voter education through social media. The primary focus of this project is to develop and test a theoretical and empirical framework of voter education and its impact on voter behavior and voter confidence. We draw utilize a novel dataset of Local Election Officials’ (LEOs) use of social media during the 2020 election cycle, and draw from two election administration surveys -the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE) and the Survey of Local Election Officials – to assess whether voters who live in states where LEOs actively engage in voter education on social media have higher levels of confidence in elections and that their votes were counted accurately. Our study is the first to establish a relationship between voter education and voter confidence.
- Mara Suttmann-Lea, Connecticut College
- Thessalia Merivaki, Mississippi State University
Thursday, July 28 4:25 PM-5:30 PM
Chair: Dr. David Kimball, University of Missouri-St., Louis
Discussant: Michael Dickerson, Mecklenburg County, NC Board of Elections
Paper #1: When and Why Does Moving Polling Places Move Access for Some More than Others?
This study examines the immediate and protracted effects of changes to polling place locations on voter turnout, particularly among historically marginalized segments of the American electorate. With the 2013 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Shelby County vs. Holder, opening the door for unfettered electoral reforms, such increased likelihood of abrupt modifications to election administration gives rise to the very real danger that such measures suppress or deny participation in the electoral process. For that reason, I identify as well as interrogate which jurisdictions are most likely to move or close voting locations; this, to get a better idea of when or why they do become so prevalent; and most importantly, whose (i.e., voter demographic) polling places are being changed. Implicit in this analysis is the concern that communities of color are the most directly and adversely impacted.
- Alejandro (Alex) Flores, MIT Election Data and Science Lab
In 2020, St. Louis County, Missouri instituted a new procedure allowing Election Day voters to cast their ballot at any of the county’s 230 polling places. The county also created an App for voters to check voting lines at each polling place. This change was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, in which private venues backed out of polling place commitments. In the November 2020 election roughly 30 percent of Election Day voters cast a ballot at a polling place outside their home precinct. We believe St. Louis County is the first local jurisdiction to adopt this type of system, at least among states that do not allow early voting. We rely on interviews with key election staff and data on election administration and voting behavior to document the new voting procedures. We use a systems framework to examine this case of local election administration – changes in one part of the system affect other areas too. The new voting process in St. Louis required new voting technology, but also changes in polling place siting and staffing, poll book procedures, as well as other technological and personnel adjustments. All of these changes had to work seamlessly for the new system to succeed. We also document anticipated and unanticipated changes in voting and administrative outcomes. This case illustrates the interdependent nature of many features of election administration.
- David Kimball, University of Missouri-St. Louis
- Anita Manion, University of Missouri-St. Louis
- Joseph Anthony, Oklahoma State University
- Adriano Udani, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Relatively small changes in polling location can have large effects on voter behavior. For example, the farther voters live from a polling place, the less likely they are to cast a vote (Dyck and Gimpel 2005). These effects are particularly strong among people from lower income precincts and who do not have access to cars (Haspel and Knotts 2005). While these studies tell us a great deal about how voters respond to stable, long term costs of voting, we know very little about how changes to precinct location influence voter behavior.
This paper uses a natural experiment resulting from North Carolina’s “Uniform and Expanded Early Voting Act” to investigate how voters respond to changes in early voting sites. Early voting was mandated to be open from 7 AM until 7 PM on weekdays, which increased the number of hours available statewide. But this change also brought about a decline in the total number of early voting locations within 70 of 100 counties. Using multivariate models combining geographic placement and distance changes, voter history and registration data, this paper demonstrates that distance changes in early vote locations reduces the probability that a voter will cast an early ballot, especially among demographic groups with traditionally lower turnout rates.
These results augment existing work by examining the effects of changes, rather than static poll placement, and by examining the effects not simply on the choice of whether to vote, but also how a voter chooses to vote (early, mail, or election day).
- Michael Bitzer, Catawba College
- Tyler Duke, The Raleigh News and Observer
- Christopher Cooper, Western Carolina University
Friday, July 29 8:30 AM-10:10 AM
Chair: Dr. Dari Sylvester Tran, University of the Pacific
Poll workers, or election workers, are an essential component to the delivery and success of elections. Poll workers may be responsible for setting up and testing voting equipment, greeting, checking, and/or verifying voters, distributing ballots, and answering questions from voters. In addition to Election Day, poll workers may be involved in preparing and counting mail ballots, canvassing the vote, vote count or tabulation, and signature verification. Across the U.S., local election officials (LEOs), particularly those in more populous jurisdictions, have expressed issues with recruiting and retaining poll workers to implement elections. Without sufficient numbers of poll workers, voters may experience additional burdens to casting their ballot including longer lines, reduced early voting periods, and polling site closures.
Poll workers have been considered stipended volunteers (Clark & James, 2021), temporary workers (Suttmann-Lea, 2020), street-level bureaucrats (Kimball & Kropf, 2006), “mediators between the voter and the ballot” (Hall et al., 2007, p. 653), and more. Limited research (Mac Donald & Glaser, 2007; McAuliffe, 2009; Cantú & Ley, 2017; Barsky, 2020; Clark & James, 2021) explores the motivations and experiences of election poll workers. Employing the theory of Public Service Motivation (PSM) (Perry & Wise, 1990) as an analytical framework, this project seeks to conceptualize who serves as an election poll worker and why. Using survey data collected in three American states, we consider whether and how poll workers respond to the rational, normative, and/or effective motivations explored in studies of public servant, nonprofit worker, and volunteer performance (Knoke & Wright-Isak, 1982; Perry & Wise, 1990; Perry, 1996).
- Monica A. Bustinza, Florida International University
- Amanda D. Clark, Florida International University
- Christina S. Barsky, University of Montana
- M. Blake Emidy, University of Montana
While a plethora of research has considered the mobilization of individuals to cast a vote, little research has considered mobilization techniques of those who distribute and count the ballots cast by voters. Local election officials are more frequently reporting that finding an adequate number of poll workers is “very difficult.” The purpose of this project is to address the poll worker shortage problem in American elections by looking at the causal mechanisms to practically and theoretically recruit more poll worker volunteers. This project will use a random sample of registered voters in the Charleston County elections division voter rolls to conduct an experiment with three treatment groups to recruit poll workers: Safeguard the electoral process, Social Pressures, and Election Accessibility. We expect that voters who are contacted by the elections division are more likely to volunteer to be poll workers relative to a control group.
- Joshua Hostetter, The Citadel
Scholarship demonstrates that elections officers have a substantial impact on public trust in elections (Hall et al. 2009; Burden and Milyo 2013). Sometimes referred to as the “street level bureaucrats” of democracy, poll workers are the human face of elections to the voting public, and although they may only work for up to a couple of days in a given year, the work they do has profound implications well beyond the end of their shift (Hall et al. 2009). Arguably, one of the most important ways that poll workers build confidence is through effective training; nevertheless, the training of poll workers is a daunting task given the patchwork of election laws that guide election day processes (Favreau and Hanks 2016) and diversity of skills, education, learning styles, and experience of the trainees. Election administrators must maximize the quality of training often in the context of limited resources and poll worker shortages (Burden and Milyo 2015; Tran 2019). This study explores the impact of a transition of poll worker training from in-person to asynchronous online learning modules with an optional practical lab. We analyze the extent to which an online transition improves poll worker training in terms of increasing confidence in elections, competence, and convenience.
- Dari Sylvester Tran, University of the Pacific
- Melissa Michelson, Menlo College
Central to free and democratic elections is the secrecy of the ballot and voters’ belief and confidence that their ballot remains secret. There is non-trivial evidence that a substantial portion of the American electorate have substantial doubts about the secrecy of electoral institutions. Even voters who vote by mail in the privacy of their homes express doubts about the secrecy of their ballots and confidence that their ballots were counted as they intended.
Voting by mail is far more susceptible to lapses in voter secrecy and voter intimidation. Persons voting by mail are not immune to others observing their vote choices and from voter intimidation. Drawing on a national post-election 2020 survey, we examine the voting experiences of mail voters, specifically focusing on the secrecy and integrity of mail ballots.
- Lonna Atkeson, Florida State University
- Robert Stein, Rice University
- Trey Hood, University of Georgia
- Braeden McNulty, Florida State University
- Colin Jones, Rice University
- Mason Reece, Rice University
- Eli Mckown-Dawson, Florida State University
Friday, July 29 10:25 AM-11:45 AM
Chair: Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The COVID-19 pandemic inspired fear among voters, further divided a polarized nation, and encouraged policymakers in many states to alter voting policies. Did the pandemic, health concerns, voting policies (including those newly initiated), and partisanship influence whether or how citizens voted? Did these factors result in voter participation in 2020 diverging from previous presidential elections? This study addresses these questions using state-level data recording voting policies, political competition, and demographic information with individual-level data from the Cooperative Election Study (CES). First, we discuss the pandemic’s impact on the political agenda, the campaigns, and the policies the states implemented to promote voter and election worker safety. Second, we provide an overview of the relationships between the threat posed by the virus, changes in election policies, and partisanship on voter turnout and the methods citizens used to cast a ballot. Third, we model the effects COVID-19, voting policies, and partisanship on the likelihood an individual voted and the voting method they selected, while controlling for voter characteristics and the electoral competition. Fourth, we analyze changes in voting behavior by comparing voter participation in the 2020 and 2016 presidential elections. The results demonstrate that some but not all of the changes the states implemented had their anticipated effect, and the relationships between election procedures, partisanship, and turnout are complex, especially during a crisis.
- Paul Herrnson, University of Connecticut
- Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada in early 2020, the country had just come off the heels of a federal election the previous October. But with a newly elected minority government, election talk, including the threat of another election, never quite faded. During the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, five provinces held elections, along with a federal election in the Fall of 2021. How did the public respond to the pandemic conditions, and how did this affect their confidence in election management and the voting process? This paper presents the conditions under which provincial and federal electoral management bodies held elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. It employs both provincial and federal survey data of Canadians, collected by the Consortium for Electoral Democracy (C-Dem), gathered in the periods leading up to and following the elections. These data allow us to present public attitudes and behaviours about holding an election during a pandemic, choices about how to vote, and comfort and safety at the polls across six provincial and federal elections in Canada. It furthermore considers how different population groups, based on socio-demographic and attitudinal variables, perceived the safety of casting a ballot and willingness to go to the polls. The paper concludes with lessons learned from holding elections during a pandemic in the Canadian context.
- Holly Ann Garnett, Royal Military College of Canada
- Jean-Nicolas Bordeleau, Universite de Montreal
- Allison Harrel, Université du Québec à Montréal
- Laura Stephenson, University of Western Ontario
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed how individual voters participated in the 2020 general election. Multiple data sources report that between 43% and 48% of the population cast their ballots by mail in that election, nearly doubling the rates of mail voting over the 2016 and 2018 general elections.
This paper will explore the factors that drove mail voting in the 2020 general election. We will use both aggregate and individual data sources—including the 2020 Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE), the 2020 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS), and the 2020 Policy Survey—to model individual decisions to vote by mail, state-level mail voting rates, and changes in mail voting rates between 2018 and 2020. We will explore the impact of individual-level factors like demographics and attitudes on the COVID-19 pandemic and state-level factors like mail voting policy and changes in policy since the 2018 general election. Preliminary analysis shows signs that attitudes towards COVID positively increased mail voting rates at the individual and state levels.
Our findings will help election administrators understand whether personal attitudes about COVID-19 played a larger role than election policies did in driving the shift towards mail voting and will assist administrators in understanding how mail voting trends may shift in future elections.
- Lindsay Nielson, Fors Marsh Group
- David Varas Alonso, Fors Marsh Group
The hallmark of the 2020 election was the heightened anxiety over voter fraud as a result of a dramatic increase in vote-by-mail. Despite scant evidence of actual voter fraud, state legislatures have responded to these suspicions by enacting new laws which target access to and ease of voting-by-mail. This study assesses the public’s perceptions of the prevalence of fraudulent election activity across voting methods as well as the durability of those attitudes over time. Public opinion data used for this analysis were collected from nationally representative samples (n=1,000) in November of 2020 and 2021 (University of Texas at Austin Cooperative Election Study Team Content). With a focus on identifying differences across voting methods, respondents in both survey years were given parallel survey items utilizing four-point scales of the prevalence of fraudulent election activities when voting-by-mail and in-person. Specifically, this study explores differences in perceptions of the frequency of the following scenarios: voting more than once, stealing or tampering with ballots, pretending to be someone else when going to vote, non-citizen voting, and officials changing the reported vote count.
Preliminary results suggest that anxiety over election fraud has persisted well into 2021. On average, respondents were more likely to perceive higher levels of fraudulent election activity in 2021 relative to 2020 in all scenarios. This pattern was stable across voting methods (e.g. voting-by-mail and in-person voting) and across years. In general, respondents were more likely to perceive higher levels of fraud when votes are cast by mail relative to in-person voting.
- Nadine Gibson, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Friday, July 29 1:15 PM-2:45 PM
Chair: Dr. Eric Heberlig, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Many states saw a dramatic increase in absentee voting during the 2020 general election, especially via designated drop boxes. This increase was in part due to COVID-19, but also because of various reforms designed to improve voter access. The increase in absentee voting initiated a debate on convenience versus security among supporters and opponents, respectively, of the use of ballot drop boxes. To evaluate the effect of expanding drop box availability, it is necessary to understand the potential value a proximate drop box can provide to voters. This paper presents an empirical analysis using a first-difference-geographic-discontinuity-design to examine the effects of differences in drop box accessibility (haversine distance, travel time, and auto driving distance) on voting outcomes in Ohio. Ohio presents a unique opportunity to study the different effects from drop box accessibility on voter turnouts due to its one-county-one-drop-box policy in the 2020 general election. We find that greater drop box accessibility (drive 3.5 minutes less, or 12.3 km less, or travel 14.9 km less) results in a 3.9 to 5.2 percent increase in voter turnout in the 2020 general election relative to the 2016 voter turnout. Our results suggest important policy implications, especially for certain groups, such as people with mobility constraints and disabilities, women, and low-income and minority populations, whose participation may be suppressed.
- Jiehong Lou, University of Maryland, College Park
- Deb A. Niemeier, University of Maryland, College Park
- Dana Rowangould, University of Vermont
- Alex Karner, The University of Texas
During the coronavirus pandemic and 2020 presidential election, mail voting became an even more important way of voting. Several studies (Burden et al. 2014, 2017; Ritter and Tolbert 2021) have established that the impact of mail voting is shaped by the presence of other election laws and broader features of a state’s election administration. However, no study has attempted to theoretically or methodologically incorporate variations in U.S. Postal System administration performance into assessments of mail voting’s impact on voter turnout. In this study, intra- and inter-state variations in postal system administration performance are incorporated into the accessible voting theoretical framework (Ritter and Tolbert 2021), with expectations that state linked U.S. mailing districts and zip codes with on average faster delivery times for first-class mail will have individuals who are more likely to vote by mail, to have higher turnout levels attributable to mail voting, and have narrower turnout differences linked to mail voting between non-Hispanic whites and racial minorities as well as higher and lower socio-economic class citizens. These hypotheses are evaluated using logistic regression along with 2014 to 2020 Catalist as well as 2008 to 2020 Oregon state voter file data. Ultimately, this study demonstrates that states with on average more accessible postal as well as election administrations are more likely to have higher voter turnout levels as well as lower levels of voting inequality linked to mail voting.
- Michael Ritter, Washington State University
Does voting by mail increase voter turnout? We propose re-conceptualizing the conventional understanding of “convenience voting,” shifting the focus from temporality (that is, voting prior to Election Day) to modality (that is, voting by mail rather than casting an in-person ballot). In doing so, we jettison binary categories of election administration to measure the availability of convenience voting in a state, relying instead on the actual use of mail ballots in a state.
- Daniel Smith, University of Florida
- Enrijeta Shino, University of Florida
- Michael McDonald, University of Florida
- Juliana Mucci, University of Florida
Some states specify a ballot curing process through which a voter can correct a problem on a mail ballot that would cause the ballot to be rejected. We theorize that there are three key elements of a ballot curing process that affect whether an eligible voter ultimately casts a ballot that counts. First, how elections officials inform voters about their problematic mail ballots. Second, the extent to which elections officials inform stakeholders who engage in voter outreach about problematic mail ballots. Third, the mechanisms put into place so that voters can correct the error without having to cast a new ballot. We highlight the importance of all three elements in the ballot curing process used by North Carolina in the 2020 general election. In this election, about 82 percent of the roughly 26,000 voters who submitted a mail ballot eligible for a cure ultimately cast a ballot that counted. About 39 percent of these counted ballots were cast in person. Having the mail ballot sent to the registration address and initially returning the mail ballot long before Election Day were two of the most important predictors that someone eligible for a cure ultimately cast a ballot that counted.
- Marc Meredith, University of Pennsylvania
- Lucy Kronenberg, University of Pennsylvania