During the brief time in the election cycle when the voting booths are actually open, we hear a lot how smoothly elections are going—where voters are waiting in long lines, where ballots are getting rejected, and the like. Elections expert Doug Chapin, who heads the University of Minnesota’s Elections Academy, calls it “anec-data”—anecdotes substituting for hard numbers. In a presidential election, we tend to hear all about problems in swing states, since the national press corps is already there, but we’re less likely to hear about issues in Montana or Connecticut, where the election outcome is almost a foregone conclusion. Good data would make it easy to compare states’ election performance, and more importantly, let us see how states are improving or declining from one election to the next. That’s why Pew’s 2012 Elections Performance Index is a big deal. Released this week, the index uses standardized data from the U.S. Census, the Elections Assistance Commission, and a major survey to assess states on 17 different variables and judge just how well they are running their elections. Because Pew offered an index for 2008 and 2010, we can now compare two different presidential elections to actually see whether election administration is getting better or worse—rather than just guess. It’s the first time such a tool has been available. For the most part, the results are encouraging. A quick perusal shows 40 of the 50 states have improved since 2008—wait times are down an average of three minutes and online registration is spreading quickly, with 13 states offering online voter registration during the 2012 election, up from just two in 2008. (Since the election, another five states have started offering it.) Many of the top-performing states in 2008, like North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado, stayed on top in 2012 while low performers, like Mississippi, Alabama, California, and New York remained at the bottom.
The process of collecting and analyzing elections data, mundane though it may sound, is extremely important, and relatively rare. Without it, we cannot really assess how elections are functioning. For a long time, there was less pressure on states to fully report on important factors, like the number of returned absentee ballots or access for disabled voters. In the index, states are judged for the complete-ness of their data collection. “States are reporting better quality and more data but that doesn’t mean they’re all the way there,” says David Becker, who, as the director of Pew’s elections initiatives, oversees the index project.
“The fact that we have data as opposed to anec-data is really important,” says Chapin. If state officials take issue with the index, they’re more likely to produce more data to challenge Pew’s conclusions—which only gives citizens more information to use.
Full Article: Get Ready for the Datapalooza of Election Performance!.