1) A New Elections Federalism: Dual Election Administration Systems
This project examines the implementation of dual election administration systems in five states. A dual election administration system creates voters who are only allowed to vote in particular political races, as compared to a fully qualified voter, who would be able to vote in all the federal, state and local political races in his or her political district. The study’s design attempts to discover how this policy diffused and the decision process used to implement the policy through a case study of five states that have at one time implemented this policy. A lack of academic research of dual election administration systems makes this research important to the election administration literature, and furthermore, this project may have implications in the fields of policy diffusion, administrative decision making and American federalism.
Brandon Fincher, Auburn University
Discussant: Dr. David Canon, University of Wisconsin-Madison
2) Disentangling How the Recent Global Challenges Shape Electoral Participation of Young and Old Citizens
A common interpretation of the age gap in electoral turnout is that younger cohorts are apathetic and part of a generation that is absent from political life. Still, youth political participation differs across European countries, and cross-national variation in the age gap has been rarely examined in the literature. This paper, therefore, argues that unequal voting in Europe is due not to a lack of interest in the public good but rather to a combination of contextual and individual factors. This study examines young and older individuals' engagement with electoral politics in 26 European countries using the European Social Survey data between 2008 and 2018. Specifically, this study addresses the questions of (1) what context-related factors determine the age gap in voting between old and young citizens and (2) why the age gap in voting is smaller in some countries than in others. The results show that the age gap varies considerably across countries. The OLS and FE regressions results suggest that government expenditure, the share of migrants, and the age of democracy influence the level of age gap in voting. The findings on macroeconomic and immigration factors raise methodological concerns.
Ayauzhan Kamatayeva, Deusto University
Discussant: Dr. Holly Garnett, Royal Military College of Canada
3) Classifying Party-Involvement in Election Administration
Election administration structures in the U.S. vary greatly in terms of how political parties are involved. In some localities, the local election official (LEO) is an elected partisan or a political appointee. In others, the LEO may be non-partisan or appointed by a bi-partisan board. Moreover, parties are involved in ways beyond the selection of the LEO. For example, party committee nominees may be responsible for certifying election results or approving poll worker lists. As part of my dissertation, I offer a descriptive analysis of these varying structures and develop a classification scheme to map out how partisan election administration structures are across the United States.
Phoebe Henninger, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Discussant: Dr. David Kimball, University of Missouri-St. Louis
4) A Discussion of the Effects of the Voting Rights of 1965 and Shelby County v. Holder on Party Outreach
The abstract: This paper seeks to investigate the impacts of the historic Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder on political party outreach in jurisdictions previously covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Utilizing a difference-in-difference model with data collected from the American National Elections Studies before and after Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the evidence provided in this paper indicates that the average number of contacts by members of the Republican and Democratic parties increased in states previously covered under the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after Shelby County v. Holder.
Veronica Judson, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Discussant: Dr. Michael Miller, Barnard College
5) Street-Level Bureaucrats of Democracy: The Diffusion of Policy Implementation
in American Election Administration
In the absence of a central electoral authority (a feature of other consolidated democracies), how do American election officials at the local level decide what is the best way to implement new election legislation? Are they influenced by partisanship?, by an administrative ethos?, or are their decisions dictated by the resources available to them? In this paper (which is part of my dissertation project) I will aim at answering these questions by developing a policy diffusion framework for local election officials (LEOs). I posit that most LEOs operate with limited resources and thus cannot develop implementation mechanisms on their own. Instead, they learn from the experiences of peers from other states that have implemented similar law reforms in previous election cycles. Further, elected LEOs will be likely to rely on partisan cues when choosing which of their peers they will learn from. They will also rely on professional organizations for learning about implementation. Using data from the last two iterations of the Survey of Local Election Officials and the Election Administration and Voting Survey, I will conduct a dyadic analysis to test two hypotheses: Partisan LEOs that were mandated to acquire new voting machines in 2020 will be more likely to choose models acquired by their copartisans in states that acquired them in 2018. LEOs are more likely to take cues about which voting machine model to acquire from other members of professional organizations that they belong to.
José Luis Enríquez Chiñas, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Discussant: Dr. Trey Hood, University of Georgia
6) Understanding the Role of Racism, Sexism, and Asian American Resentment on Vote Choice in Light of Conspiracy Theory Endorsements
Asian American representation in Congress has reached a record high in the 117th Congress, yet still lags behind proportional representation. Previous work suggests that anti-Asian racial animosity may be one explanation, but fails to untangle racial resentment from racial animosity specifically directed at Asian Americans or consider the effect of racial prejudice in combination with sexism on candidate evaluation. Further work implies that partisanship may play a larger role on voter decisions than stereotypes or racial animosity when voters rely on party identity as a heuristic in complex information environments. I use the newly-developed Asian American resentment (AAR) scale and draw on original conjoint experiments to investigate and untangle the effects of partisanship, racial resentment, and sexism on candidate evaluations. I then turn to a conspiracy theory that COVID-19 originated from a lab leak in Wuhan, China, which garnered bipartisan support. While previous work suggests that endorsing conspiracy theories does not benefit candidates, I hypothesize that there will be a positive effect of endorsing the lab leak conspiracy among those with high levels of Asian American resentment.
Zachary L. Hertz, University of Chicago
Discussant: Dr. Anita Manion, University of Missouri-St. Louis
7) Modeling Subnational Electoral System Reforms in the United States
Alternative electoral systems, such as ranked-choice voting and proportional representation, have been heralded as one of America's greatest hopes for combating polarization and improving representation. Unprecedented election reforms are busily becoming law in regions around the country, including switches to instant runoff voting in two states and in the nation's largest city. But to understand how electoral system changes might affect the vote totals of specific candidates, political scientists rely on broad comparisons to countries that have used different electoral systems, and there are two major problems with applying these approaches to American elections. First, the fact that candidates in primary elections share the same party label complicates comparisons to other democracies, where differences in party labels can structure the effects of electoral systems. Second, there may be no appropriate comparison for the electoral systems husbandry of places like Alaska, which have developed and implemented highly creative combinations of existing systems. To specifically estimate how these new systems might affect the performance of different types of candidates, I develop a model which estimates how a change in electoral systems could affect the candidates in a given election. The model combines game theory, past election results, and public opinion data into a falsifiable and accurate computational formal model, which I previously applied to Canada and Britain and now adapt to the American context. I also extend models of strategic voting to cover new electoral systems, and explicitly model how voters might respond to various electoral system changes.
Samuel Baltz, MIT Election Data and Science Lab
Discussant: Dr. Paul Herrnson, University of Connecticut
8) Using Write In Votes to Investigate Voter Preferences, Voter Rationality, and the Potential for Ranked Choice Voting in a Non-Partisan Mayoral Race
Write-in votes are provided on nearly all ballots in the United States, but outside of a few high-profile write-in campaigns, we know of no election science research that examines how voters actually use the write-in slot, and whether any implications can be drawn from write-in voting for voter rationality, election administration, and election reform.
We have a unique opportunity to explore these questions using ballot images obtained from the November 2020 election in Multnomah County, OR, which featured a highly competitive November run-off between the top two primary finishers, the incumbent mayor and an leftist challenger. The mayor won by a narrow margin, but a whopping 20% of the ballots contained a write-in. The outcome raises important real-world questions about the election administration and reform in Portland, which is currently debating substantial election reforms, including ranked-choice voting, as well as theoretical questions about what kinds of voters cast write in votes and what information be extracted from these votes.
Using tools from computer science, we extract the write in choices and determine that 75% write-ins (15% of the votes) were for a single candidate. Using machine learning algorithms, we then infer that 90% of "second preferences" were for the challenger. The results, we argue, provide strong evidence for using RCV in non-partisan contests such as these. We also discuss when and how election authorities can report write-in choices.
Along with the substantive results, our paper reports on tools that can be used to extract write in choices; and inferential tools for constructing voter preference ordering for one race using the cast vote records for all other races.
Malen Cuturic and Paul Gronke, Reed College
Dr. Barry Burden, University of Wisconsin-Madison
9) How Accurate is Vote Tabulation?
Partisan disputes over the legitimacy of vote counts have become increasingly common in American elections. In the 2020, and to a lesser degree 2016, presidential elections one of the two major candidates disputed the legitimacy of the certified vote counts. After the 2020 election, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol building to disrupt the Congressional certification of the election results. In this climate, understanding the accuracy of voting tabulation is more important than ever. Previous analysis has not directly estimated how accurate voting tabulation is and has limited itself to only one source of data. Initial work only predicted the shift between the original vote totals and the recounted totals. It is possible for there to be a shift of 0, yet every vote was counted incorrectly. Subsequent work has used this shift at different levels of aggregation to linearly predict an individual ballot level error rate, but this method is uncertain and unstable. I propose an alternate method of measuring what I refer to as tabulation error rate, using a combinatorial technique. Additionally, I expand the number of states examined and use post-election audits as well as recounts. Using recounts alone may produce biased estimates, as the choice to conduct a recount or not is in fact dependent on the error rate in said election. With that in mind, I produce a broad and more precise survey of the accuracy of voting tabulation in the US, with a focus on the 2020 election.
Jacob Jaffe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Discussant: Dr. Lonna Atkeson, Florida State University
10) Google Says So(S): An Examination of the Entanglement of Search Engines and Information on Ballot Propositions
In the days leading up to the 2020 election, individuals online raised concerns that people who sought information about the California ballot propositions were displayed biased information on Google search engine result pages. We conduct a small-scale algorithmic audit and analysis to investigate claims of search engine bias in the search results. We find that while the majority of search snippets do not take a clear stance towards a given proposition, some neutral government sources were incorrectly summarized on the Google search snippet algorithm. In particular, the search results for the Secretary of State’s voter information guide appeared to favor certain propositions. In this paper, discuss how the ‘algorithmic breakdown’ contributes to larger issues of public trust in authoritative election information and then use this case study to reflect on best practices of how experts can investigate grassroots claims of algorithmic bias.
Emma Lurie, UC Berkeley
Discussant: Dr. David Canon, University of Wisconsin-Madison
11) Shifting Administrative Burdens: The Role of Partisanship in Diluting Voter Restoration and Undermining Democracy in Florida
The State of Florida has been notorious for its lifetime voting ban on citizens with felonies until passing Amendment 4 in the 2018 midterm election. An estimated 1.4 million citizens were expected to have their voting rights restored when the amendment became effective in early 2019. However, in the summer following its implementation, the Florida legislature and ultimately, Governor DeSantis, severed the reach of the amendment through Senate Bill 7066, which added the requirement of paying restitution, fines, and fees before being able to vote. This paper shares insights collected via 19 interviews with key political and policy entrepreneurs involved with designing, campaigning, or implementing Amendment 4. It discusses the role of partisan politics in policy design and the administrative and judicial quagmire that ensued after the "poll tax" qualifier was added to the amendment. The study also details how Republicans weaponized technical and managerial feasibility issues, thereby imposing burdens on citizens and election administrators. The implications of this study are important for understanding the gaps between policy and democracy, the challenges of policy implementation, and the importance of process infrastructure for successful election administration.
Stephanie Puello, University of Colorado at Denver
Discussant: Dr. Michael McDonald, University of Florida
12) Does Appointing Local Election Officials Produce Better Election Administration?
Does appointing rather than directly electing local election officials produce higher quality administrators and better-run elections? Given the technical and bureaucratic nature of election administration, as well as the low-information environment of local elected office, appointing election officials could increase both the quality of the pool of candidates and the accountability mechanism ensuring they do a good job. I leverage over-time variation in Georgia, Oregon, and Texas county election administration and a difference-in-difference design to credibly test the causal effects of appointing rather than electing local election officials on citizen participation. Appointed officials out-perform their elected counterparts, increasing voter turnout by 1.5 percentage points and raising registration rates by 1 percentage point. These findings hold across multiple states and offices and may affect partisan vote outcomes. They add to a nascent literature on the limits of elections in ensuring accountable officeholders and inform ongoing policy debates over local election administration in the US.
Joshua Ferrer, UCLA
Discussant: Dr. Mitchell Brown, Auburn University
13) Detecting Fair Distributions of Polling Locations
While much scholarly and media attention has focused on the time voters spend waiting at the polls to cast their votes, less attention has been paid to the time voters must travel in order to reach their polling places. Because traveling to the polls is a central cost borne by voters, choosing polling locations is one of many decisions made by local election officials that has the potential to decrease voting costs or to introduce bias in favor of certain voters living closer to selected polling places. In this paper, I propose a simple toolset designed to detect polling placements that create longer-than-expected wait times for groups of voters while controlling for urban-density and other underlying factors. As election administration becomes increasingly contentious, these tools may serve to increase election credibility, test for election manipulation, and help local election officials decrease costs borne by voters.
Michael Greenberger, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Discussant: Dr. Stephen Pettigrew, University of Pennsylvania