From Registration to Recounts: A Study of Election Ecosystems
BOOK FORUM
About This Event

How well can our election administration system handle another close election? Since Bush v. Gore in 2000, substantial changes have occurred in the areas of voter registration, voter identification, voting technology, provisional balloting, and recounts. Experts from the election law program at The Ohio State University recently completed a comprehensive review of election procedures in five key Midwestern states (Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin), the findings of which are of significance not only regionally, but also nationally. At this event, Edward Foley, Steven Huefner, and Daniel Tokaji will release their new book, From Registration to Recounts: The Election Ecosystems of Five Midwestern States. The book not only provides a thorough analysis and constructive criticism of several different types of election administration systems but also provides key recommendations for how an ideal election ecosystem should be constructed. Following the presentation, Election Assistance Commission member Caroline Hunter and Los Angeles County registrar Conny McCormack will offer comments.

The AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project aims to synthesize election-related research, link the research and policy communities, track and assist the implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and encourage improvements in HAVA and in election conduct and administration. Important goals of the reform project are to better inform policymakers, to provide a more comprehensive view of election reform changes among the national policy community, to raise the profile for election reform issues within Washington, and to improve coordination among groups and researchers around the country.

Agenda
10:15 a.m.
Registration and Breakfast
10:30
Panelists:
Edward B. Foley, The Ohio State University
Steven F. Huefner, The Ohio State University
Daniel P. Tokaji, The Ohio State University
Discussants:
Caroline Hunter, Election Assistance Commission
Conny McCormack, Los Angeles County
Moderator:
John C. Fortier, AEI
12:00
Adjournment
Event Summary

December 2007

 

From Registration to Recounts: A Study of Election Ecosystems

 

 

How well can our election administration system handle another close election? Since Bush v. Gore in 2000, substantial changes have occurred in the areas of voter registration, voter identification, voting technology, provisional balloting, and recounts. Experts from the election law program at The Ohio State University recently completed a comprehensive review of election procedures in five key Midwestern states (Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin), the findings of which are of significance not only regionally, but also nationally. At this event, Edward Foley, Steven Huefner, and Daniel Tokaji released their new book, From Registration to Recounts: The Election Ecosystems of Five Midwestern States. The book not only provides a thorough analysis and constructive criticism of several different types of election administration systems but also provides key recommendations for how an ideal election ecosystem should be constructed. Following the presentation, Election Assistance Commission member Caroline Hunter and Los Angeles County registrar Conny McCormack offered comments.

Steven F. Huefner
The Ohio State University

The five states described in From Registration to Recounts are similar in many ways, but they are diverse enough to represent the varied ways elections are administered across the country. The study attempts to address eight sequential topics about the five states it covers: how states have constructed their HAVA databases, how eligibility challenges play out, developments in voting technology, early voting, absentee voting, how ballots are secured, how provisional ballots are treated, and how elections are challenged.

The findings also compare the relative political strength or weakness of the states' chief election officials, the partisanship of the election administration mechanisms, structures of the mechanisms themselves, particular municipalities that have proved problematic in the past, and the degree to which the states have been able to comply with HAVA. The authors agree that there is a need for a strong, centralized state election authority, whether elected or appointed, that is well-insulated from partisan forces.

Edward B. Foley
The Ohio State University

States must have sufficient institutional strength to carry themselves through postelection disputes. In Ohio, for example, where every aspect of the state election system has a partisan affiliation, there is risk of a lengthy, controversial "endgame scenario" in a contested election. To guard against these situations, states must have a neutral body capable of legitimate election dispute resolution.

The report documents highly inconsistent "administrative talents" among states, and even counties and municipalities within states. Franklin County, Ohio, is unique among Ohio jurisdictions for its zero-rate of rejection of provisional ballots for insufficient identification, and its extremely low rate of rejection for nonregistration. Although this hesitance to reject ballots might come as an attempt to avoid litigation in a county featuring a hotly-contested congressional race, policies like this might end up causing even more litigation than they prevent.

Inconsistencies in election administration are often tantamount to inequalities. Strong state-level oversight is necessary to preserve equality in election administration. States should strive for neutral and respected administrators in the model of people like Alan Greenspan.

Conny McCormack
Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters

Knowledgeable and experienced officials at the state level are vital to successful elections. In California, which has had four secretaries of state in five years, there has been some difficulty in the collaboration between municipal and state officials. To ease the disconnect that might result from frequent executive turnover, local election administrators have to work together to identify problems and goals on their own.

Only since the controversy following the 2000 election in Florida have most people really come to realize that elections are conducted differently in different states. In reality, election administration varies from precinct to precinct. There are 1.4 million poll workers in the United States, and during any given election, half of them are working the polls for the first time. In the upcoming presidential primary in California, the state's unaffiliated voters--making up 20 percent of the electorate--will be able to vote in the Democratic, but not the Republican, primary. This departure from longstanding practice will inevitably cause confusion and underscore the case-by-case basis on which these questions are resolved.

Caroline Hunter
Election Assistance Commission

From Registration to Recounts will prove extremely useful in evaluating events at the state level and should serve as a model for future studies of other regions. Although the study will prove as useful to political parties and advocacy groups as it will for state administrators, there is nothing partisan about clearly establishing the "rules of the game" in elections. In too many cases, the public has had only outdated advisory opinions and inconsistent answers from local officials to rely on.

On the issue of provisional ballots, while there may be disputes as to how they should be judged, it is hard to deny that they enable many people to vote who would not previously have been able to do so. Improving the state databases of voters required under HAVA will similarly help everyone. Congress should refrain from writing new legislation on election administration--or even issuing broad principles, as the report suggests--until states have had more time to adjust to the new requirements and meet their existing obligations.

Daniel P. Tokaji
The Ohio State University

The United States is not a unified election system--there are at least fifty separate ecosystems, each subject to individual evaluation. More realistically, one might evaluate the election climate in terms of the thousands of local administrators who are, in a sense, street-level policymakers.

On the subject of provisional ballots, there is little debate that they have increased the number of people able to cast a vote on Election Day. There is a significant downside, however. Like hanging chads in Florida in 2000, provisional ballots may provide a new battlefield on which to litigate following the 2008 election. In general, states that have used a provisional ballot system for a longer period of time tend to count these votes at a higher rate than states for which provisional voting is new. This phenomenon suggests that an adjustment period should be expected following states' implementation of provisional balloting.

In general, serious academic study of the field of election administration is very new and undeveloped.

AEI intern Blake Hulnick prepared this summary.

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