The Human Dimension of Elections: How Poll Workers Shape Public Confidence in Elections

Kelly D. Patterson
Brigham Young University
J. Quin Monson
Political Research Quarterly

This article examines the role that poll workers play in the perceptions that voters have about the overall quality of elections and democracy more generally. Although the 2000 election opened up a wideranging examination of the electoral process in the United States, there has been little consideration given to the role of administration and management in the electoral process and in confidence in election outcomes (cf. Hall 2003; Alvarez and Hall 2006). Many studies have examined the performance of voting technologies (e.g., Alvarez, Ansolabehere, and Stewart 2005; Ansolabehere and Stewart 2005), the implementation of various reforms like all-vote-bymail in Oregon (e.g., Hanmer and Traugott 2004), the partisan nature of electoral administration (Kimball, Kropf, and Battles 2006), and the consequences of reform (e.g., Berinsky 2005). These studies have greatly expanded our understanding of specific aspects of elections, especially the role of voting technology and voting methods on vote counting and participation.

However, little is known about how the activities that occur within polling places on Election Day affect whether individuals have confidence in the way elections are administered as well as election outcomes. This article has three components. First, we examine the role of poll workers and polling place activities in the election process and consider how they are similar to street-level bureaucracies. As street-level bureaucrats, poll workers can exercise discretion in ways that directly affect the experience of the voter. In addition, other polling place experiences, like having to wait in line, can also shape the voter’s experience. Second, we examine the level of satisfaction that voters have toward various components of the voting process. Third, we then consider how a voter’s satisfaction with the poll workers might affect how voters view two key attributes of elections: (1) confidence that the current election process produces fair election outcomes and (2) confidence that the ballot was counted accurately.