Date Published: 2008-11-30
Author(s):Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This paper summarizes what systematic evidence exists about the performance of the American voting process in 2004 and proposes a comprehensive system of performance measures that would allow citizens and officials to assess the quality of the voting system in the U.S.
Despite the great deal of attention paid to voting reform from 2000 to 2004, and billions of dollars spent, there is surprisingly little systematic evidence of improvement in how elections are conducted in the United States. The best evidence of improvement comes in assessing the overall quality of voting machines that were used, and here the news is good. Nonetheless the measures used to assess voting machines could be greatly improved. There is little systematic, nationwide evidence of whether registration problems declined, polling places were administered better, or whether voter tabulations were more accurate.
In thinking about how to improve data gathering about the election system, we first need to specify four principles guiding data gathering (uniformity, transparency, expedition, and multiple sources) and three major obstacles (federalism, state and local officials, and disputes over the purpose of elections). With these principles and obstacles in mind, I sketch out a basic data gathering agenda intended to allow the public to assess the quality of voting in the United States.