Political scientists examine voter confidence in electoral administration, make recommendations

November 05, 2007

Washington, DC--A new study by political scientists examines voter confidence in the local administration of U.S. elections and finds the quality of voters' experience with the voting process is key to bolstering confidence in the election system--along with the casting a ballot on Election Day and the use of voting machines with verifiable results.

The research, conducted by Lonna Rae Atkeson (University of New Mexico) and Kyle L. Saunders (Colorado State University), is entitled "The Effect of Election Administration on Voter Confidence: A Local Matter?" and appears in an election reform symposium in the October issue of PS: Political Science & Politics, a journal of the American Political Science Association.

The full symposium is available online at http://www.apsanet.org/content_47809.cfm.

Elections are the key link between citizens and their elected officials in a democracy. "If voters do not have confidence that their vote is counted correctly then the most fundamental aspect of representative democracy...is in doubt...," observe Atkeson and Saunders. Their study, based on a random survey of voters following the 2006 midterm election in two competitive congressional districts, focuses specifically on "whether a voter believes her vote will actually be counted as intended...".

The authors reach three primary conclusions. First, "our findings demonstrate substantial evidence that voters' direct experience with the voting process influences their voter confidence," state the authors, and "the more helpful the poll workers and the more a voter enjoyed her voting method, the more confident she was that her vote counted." Second, "not casting a ballot on Election Day, but instead voting absentee or early, results in less voter confidence, especially for absentee voting." Third, "when voters use a voting machine that they agree produces verifiable results, they are more confident in the election process."

The authors conclude by providing recommendations to policy makers. First, "local election administrators must work to produce a positive voter experience....Poll workers must be well trained so that they appear competent, non-partisan, and helpful to the voter." This encompasses well-designed, efficient, and unambiguous ballot designs with larger bubbles and fonts, as well as possibly allowing voters multiple voting choices. Second, voter confidence can be improved by "using machines that produce verifiable results" and "a more visible role for the local administrator...[who]...needs to appear competent, non-partisan, and helpful." Third, "it is important to look more closely at why early and absentee voting produces less confidence. Many states are increasingly affording these options to their voters, yet our results suggest such options may be problematic."

Because the process of electing our leaders is at least as important as the trust we place in them once they take office voter confidence is an important area of study. This study shows that citizen confidence in the election system is dependent on procedural consistency, perceived fairness, and accountability.
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The American Political Science Association (est. 1903) is the leading professional organization for the study of politics and has over 14,000 members in 80 countries. For more news and information about political science research visit the APSA media website, www.politicalsciencenews.org.

American Political Science Association

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