Partisan Bias in Evaluating U.S. Elections during the HAVA Decade: A Natural Experiment

Date Published: 
Shaun Bowler
University of California

Controversies over the conduct of elections prompted a variety of reform efforts during the last decade, notably The Help America Vote Act. HAVA and state-level measures like California's Voting Modernization Bond Act allowed local governments to replace obsolete election equipment with more technologically advanced voting machines. The machinery of democracy appears to affect voter confidence in elections. However, these judgments are also associated with party identification and other voter characteristics. We anticipate partisan attachments substantially affect how voters react to changes in election technology over time. We argue that these judgments should also be conditioned by the particular technology adopted, given elite signaling about partisan costs and benefits associated with various voting systems. Using surveys of California residents conducted in 2004 and 2008, we construct a dynamic investigation of confidence in elections. Consistent with our expectations, California Democrats gained confidence in elections during the last decade while Republicans experienced a substantially greater loss in confidence. We exploit differences in county implementation of new technology as a natural experiment to examine whether patisan reactions are driven by local or state-level reform. We find voters are more influenced by state-level changes in voting equipment.