The first paper, “The Problems of Minimal Support: Considerations for an Establishment Survey of Local Election Officials”, is co-authored by Jay Lee and Paul Gronke.
Here is the abstract (click https://blogs.reed.edu/earlyvoting/spsa_sampling_paper/ to view the full paper).
In this paper, we provide evidence to support the use of a specific sampling algorithm for drawing random samples of local election officials (LEOs) in the United States, using the sampling package in the R statistical package. The paper is part of a larger project that examines the backgrounds, professional orientations, and opinions of LEOs in order to better characterize their role as “stewards of democracy.” The enormous diversity of local jurisdictions and the hyperfederalized institutional structure of American elections combine to create methodological challenges to drawing a random sample that allows generalizations both about LEOs and also about the American voting experience. The paper explores the statistical foundations of a number of unequal inclusion probability sampling methods implemented in the sampling package. We show using simulations that the extremely skewed distribution of jurisdictions (by population size) causes anomalies in the sampling method, resulting in overly variant samples and extreme values for sampling weight when using the minimal support sampling algorithn. We further show that the “random systematic” sampling method is superior, resulting in lower variance estimates, and is just as easy to implement as “minimal support”.
The second paper, “Staffing the Stewards of Democracy: the Demographic and Professional Profile of America’s Local Election Officials”, is co-authored by Paul Manson, Natalie Adona, and Paul Gronke.
Here is the abstract (click https://blogs.reed.edu/earlyvoting/staffing-the-stewards/ to view the full paper):
Drawing on the results of two national surveys of local election officials (LEOs) in 2018 and 2019, we explore the demographic and professional profile of America’s “stewards of democracy” and compare our data to other surveys of the local bureaucracy and civil service. Our demographic findings are consistent with prior surveys of LEOs, in which we find that the typical LEO in the United States is female, white, over 55, and earns just over $50,000 a year. We are interested in comparing the demographic profile of the typical LEO to other local officials and government employees. We want to understand if there is something unique about election administration that leads females to advance to leadership positions, and in many cases, choose to run for office, in order serve as the local official administer- ing elections and supporting our democratic system. We compare our results with employment data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as a first step into answering these questions as well as exploring larger questions of representative bureaucracy. We also offer a first look at LEO job satisfaction and data that provide a glimpse into how people enter into the profession of election administration.
In our last blog post we explored turnover among local election officials in the US. In this installment we turn to examine how the Stewards of Democracy are selected for their positions and how LEOs themselves think about selection methods. We hope our results can inform ongoing discussions about how we select the local and state officials who administer American elections.
Local election officials that administer elections across the United States may have run for office, been appointed, or been hired into their positions. Elections may have been partisan or non-partisan contests. As with so many features in American election administration, selection methods vary both across and within states.
In our 2019 survey, we heard from a random sample of over 800 officials. The respondents are evenly split between those elected and those appointed.
|How LEO |
|N of Cases||Percent of Sample|
In jurisdictions with less than 25,000 registered voters, most local election officials are elected (according to our survey results). In larger jurisdictions, the LEO is more likely to be appointed. This could be potentially explained a number of ways. For many smaller jurisdictions, the LEO may be the local county clerk, with a diverse portfolio of duties that might include managing city council records, managing administrative records including business, marriage, dog and other licenses — along with that minor thing called elections.
We see this in our results — 71% of LEOs in jurisdictions with 5,000 or fewer registered voters report election work makes up less than half of their work. For larger jurisdictions, the LEO role is likely a civil service or appointed role that serves a higher elected body. In larger jurisdictions with over 100,000 registered voters, 60-80% of LEOs report that elections make up all or almost all of their workload.
|Selection Type |
|Percent of |
Dr. Evan Crawford, one of our collaborators for the 2019 LEO survey, has been exploring the question of partisanship in local elections as an extension of his dissertation work at the University of Wisconsin. Evan’s work shows a growing call to change school board elections to partisan races.
In our 2019 survey, we wanted to give LEOs a chance to weigh in on this question. How do LEOs think that we should select the local officials who run elections?
Two thirds of our respondents want to see LEOs elected to their position, with partisan races supported by over 20%. These answers are likely influenced by how the respondent themselves are selected, so we examined whether being elected or appointed makes a difference.
Not surprisingly, those who are elected prefer elections for LEOs (89%). Those who are appointed are much more divided. Of those who are appointed, 43% indicate they would like to see LEOs elected and 47% prefer appointment. Finally, non-partisan elections are much preferred over partisan elections.
|Selection Type Preferred||Appointed LEOs||Elected LEOs|
In our survey, we also asked LEOs who were elected whether they ran in a partisan or nonpartisan race. This provides us a chance to compare preferences for partisan or non-partisan elections by the type of election the LEO participated in.
LEOs elected in nonpartisan races overwhelmingly want to see nonpartisan races. However, for LEOs elected in partisan races the opinion is split, with 58% wishing to see the selection not be a partisan race.
|Selection Type||LEOs Elected in|
|LEOs Elected in|
|Prefer Partisan Races||4.7%||41.8%|
|Prefer Nonpartisan Races||95.3%||58.2%|
It makes sense that elected LEOs would support the continued use of elections to select the occupant of their position. They are familiar with and successful in elections. These elected LEOs also seem interested in moving away from partisan races. But why are so many appointed LEOs interested in seeing the use of elections to select their position? It is possible that these LEOs are themselves appointed by elected boards or officers and would like to be elevated to that role. It is also possible that these LEOs feel they might find some independence in their position if it was an elected position. These possible explanations are a topic we hope to explore further in our next survey.
Some 8,000 local election officials guide elections across the United States. These local officials work to assure the safety, security, and legitimacy of our elections. These Stewards of Democracy are a critical group in our nation – yet they do not receive much attention.
In 2018, the Early Voting Information Center (EVIC) at Reed College, in partnership with the Democracy Fund, initiated an annual survey of local elections officials to learn more, and to share the perspectives of these public servants. This is the first in a series of posts sharing our 2019 results, reflecting on what we have learned in the first two years of our polling.
This post is inspired by Pam Fessler’s report that some prominent local election officials, many serving in populous jurisdictions, are “heading for the exits.” Officials interviewed in the story all agreed that administering elections was rewarding and important, but also stressful and exhausting. As one official told Fessler:
“With the stress and the constant pressure of the job, I just want to put more of my energy into my family versus my career at this point in my life and I think I’m just ready to move to a career that’s maybe not so much under the spotlight or the microscope,”
In our 2019 survey, we wanted to learn about the career trajectories and professional work environment of LEOs. One of the questions we asked was what year they began “working in elections”.
What we found supports in some respects the concerns raised in the story. Over half of the LEOs in our survey tell us that they started working in elections more than 13 years ago (median response: 2008). That indicates a quite experienced set of professional administrators.
At the same time, over half of the LEOs in our survey have served just over a decade (only two presidential cycles), and there is a noticeable spike at 2018.
As we found so many other aspects of elections work, there is a substantial difference in turnover and experience levels between the largest and smallest jurisdictions (and a clear trend in years of experience by jurisdiction size).
Larger jurisdictions have administrators with more years of experience than small jurisdictions (< 5000 registered voters). We want to dive deeper into our survey data, but it is our sense from talking to officials that many start their careers in smaller jurisdictions and then move to larger jurisdictions, which may account for the patterns observed here.
Some jurisdictions elect their local election official. Others appoint or hire them into their role. We wondered if there might be more turnover in elected positions based on more competition for the position or the periodic review that elections create.
We find no real difference. If anything the opposite is somewhat true: elected officials have are more likely to have served longer compared to appointed officials.
This is only the first in a series of blog postings as part of the 2019 Democracy Fund / Reed College Local Election Survey. We welcome questions, comments, and please keep tuned!
There’s a good story at 538.com by Nathaniel Rakich on the turnout effects of automatic voter registration. He does a good job identifying the boundaries of the potential effects, and is sensitive to the difficult problem of identifying the counter-factual.
Gronke quote about behavioral economics and opt-in / opt-out implementation:
And then there’s the behavioral economics of it all. Reed College professor Paul Gronke told FiveThirtyEight that social science research has generally found that an opt-out system (like AVR) is more effective than an opt-in one (like having to actively register yourself).
The research continues!
A great article in Salon by the always insightful Steven Rosenfeld illustrates the difficulties of implementing national party mandates for a fully inclusive primary system while retaining the unique in-person and face to face features of the Iowa caucus.
The immediate takeaway from the article is that the phone-based system for “virtual voting” that was proposed in Iowa and Nevada has severe security risks, and it’s been abandoned. The bigger question, it seems to me, is whether or not requiring absentee (and presumably early) voting in Iowa will fundamentally alter the dynamics of this contest, with reverberations down the line in our sequential nominating process.
In Why Iowa, Professors David Redlawsk, Caroline Tolbert, and Todd Donovan provide a full-throated defense of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus. Two parts of their argument are distinct from caucus rules–they defend a sequential process and Iowa’s position in that process.
The bulk of the book, however, focuses on the caucus itself, and how the caucus rules; public learning, information, deliberation and participation levels; and media coverage are unique to the caucus.
From an election administration and electoral process perspective, it’s not clear to me that a requirement for some kind of “absentee voting” can be squared with the caucus as it is currently designed.
It seems to me–and Dave, Caroline, and Todd will surely correct me if I’m wrong–that their argument about the merits of the Iowa caucus is largely one driven by locality and place. You need to be in Iowa, experiencing the candidate visits, canvassing, media scrutiny, and engaging in conversations with your fellow citizens. We may cynically dismiss the role of face to face politics in this day and age, but their results show that face to face politics really matters in Iowa.
How can one participate in a caucus if the ballot is cast by phone or over the internet, weeks before the event? Isn’t this fundamentally a different kind of voting?
We might have had an answer in 2020 (yay research!) but for now, virtual voting in Iowa looks like it’s not in the cards.
We are nearing a final release of the 2018 Democracy Fund / Reed College Local Election Official survey. Our current discussion is all about the “bins”. In other words, what is the best way to categorize local election officials, and by implication local election jurisdictions, so as to provide some meaningful categories for comparison but not lump together very disparate locations.
There’s no magic formula for making this choice, as David Kimball and Brady Baybeck showed so effectively in the 2013 Election Law Journal article,”Are All Jurisdictions Equal? Size Disparity in Election Administration.” As of 2008, Kimball and Baybeck showed how the population of local election officials is dominated by small jurisdictions, yet the majority of registered voters live in larger jurisdictions (see Figures 1 and 2, reproduced from their article).
Kimball and Baybeck chose to report their results by “small”, “medium”, and “large” as shown in the figures, because they argued these categories reflected fundamental distinctions in the nature of election administration:
To simplify some of the analyses that follow, we divide the universe of local jurisdictions into three size categories: small (serving less than 1,000 voters), medium (serving between 1,000 and 50,000 voters), and large jurisdictions (serving more than 50,000 voters). We chose 1,000 voters as one divid- ing line because jurisdictions with fewer than 1,000 voters are generally small towns that have no more than a couple of polling places and a handful of poll workers. We expect these jurisdictions to have a different election administration experience than larger jurisdictions. In addition, roughly one-third of the jurisdictions served less than 1,000 voters in recent presidential elections, so this serves as a natural break in the data.
We chose 50,000 voters as the other dividing line because jurisdictions serving more than 50,000 vot- ers tend to be in densely populated metropolitan areas with a large central city. Thus, the largest jurisdictions have different infrastructure and transportation networks than the medium-sized jurisdictions, which are mostly rural and exurban counties. Together, these dimensions characterize what we define as small, medium, and large jurisdictions in a variety of analyses below. The smallest jurisdictions are primarily in the upper Midwest and New England, with a smaller number in the Plains. Large jurisdictions are concentrated in the major metropolitan centers of the United States.
Our 2018 distributions look quite similar to what David and Brady found. Below, we’ve reproduced histograms displays of jurisdictions, first counties and then townships, by populations of registered voters. Most notable is how very many local election officials serve in townships in the United States (predominantly in Michigan, Wisconsin, and in New England) yet how very few (comparatively) voters there are in those jurisdictions (note that we have excluded jurisdictions that serve 100,000 or more registered voters, for the purposes of making the display readable–those jurisdictions administer elections for 35% of all registered voters).
While the final report is not yet complete (coming attractions!), we have tentatively decided to split the difference, in hopefully what is an instructive and not Solomonic division.
We will report our results in these bins:
- 0-5,000 registered voters. These jurisdictions comprise 25% of our LEO respondents and 2.9% of registered voters
- 5,001 – 25,000 registered voters. These jurisdictions comprise 30%of our respondents and serve 12.7% of registered voters.
- 25,001 – 100,000 registered voters. 30% of respondents and 18.5% of voters
- 100,001 – largest. 15% of responses and 66.9% of voters.
The discerning reader will notice that the last category covers a lot of voters. This is unavoidable, because this category includes not very many LEOs, relatively speaking, and our survey guarantees confidentiality to our respondents. We can report some results with the final bin broken into two smaller bins, but we must honor the commitment we made to our respondents.
This is the reality of American election administration. It’s a classic case where diversity and decentralization are both a source of strength but also can create inequities in funding and voter access.
Today’s electionline story describes 25 houses in Hamden, CT that have been incorrectly assigned to election districts since the last redistricting cycle in 2011, and have been the wrong ballots. There are charges that voters have been “disenfranchised” though it’s unclear whether the ballots were counted for the “wrong” race, or only some races were counted.
The process obviously needs to be investigated, and Secretary of State Denise Merrill is calling not just for a detailed investigation of Hamden’s procedures, but a statewide audit when it became clear that there were additional districting errors, including candidates who were elected in districts where they were not residents.
There are a lot of moving parts here and a quick scan of the various stories show an early tendency on the part of journalists to move quickly to use a partisan lens. It appears to be more an accident of unfortunate events that a Democratic registrar in Hamden has been on medical leave during the election, leaving a single person in charge, who happened to be a Republican, and the district was won by a Republican in a relatively close race (though one where the winning margin of 77 votes exceeded the number of voters who were misassigned).
While we will all need to wait to see the outcome of the audit, election scientists have been aware of this mis-mapping problem for a while because of a series of presentations that Dr. Michael McDonald and Dr. Brian Amos have given at our recent conferences. McDonald and Amos show that mis-assignments are seldom intentional, and most often result from out of date shape files (the geo-spatial files that are used to assign geolocations to larger geographical entities, such as election precincts and districts) and mis-alignments between “street files” (the lists that jurisdictions use to match street addresses to precincts / districts) and the actual geographic boundaries of the district.
I urge interested readers to follow this link to learn more about the great work being done by McDonald and Amos, and how their technology can help to improve election accuracy.
While different data sources come up with slightly different estimates, the Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement shows that the level of early voting has tripled since 1998 in midterm elections, and has gone up two and half times in presidential years.
If the levels this year are 30% or higher, it will be the most in any midterm. It’s unlikely that this year’s early voting rate will hit the 2016 level of 39%, but it’s possible that we might approach it.