Session 2: Learning From Election Officials

Thursday, July 28 10:15 AM-11:15 AM

Chair: Scott McDonell, Dane County, Wisconsin Clerk

Paper #1: Buffeted by Many Storms: Local Election Official Survey Findings from 2018-2022

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

Paper #2: Election Reforms and their Impacts: Perspectives from Michigan Local Election Officials

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

Paper #3: Plotting out election administrative problems from the 2020 election

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