Wide variations among the 50 states when it comes to the ease of casting a ballot are impacting the quality of democracy in the United States, a new study shows. Forget voter fraud. States are influencing who votes by making it easier or harder to cast a ballot, and that’s likely shaping election results, said study lead author Scot Schraufnagel, chair of the Department of Political Science at Northern Illinois University. He worked on the study with co-authors Michael J. Pomante II and Quan Li. Pomante II earned his doctorate from NIU in 2016 and works as a professor at Jacksonville University in Florida, while Li is a professor at Wuhan University in China. They created a “Cost of Voting Index”—using what is described in the study as “the largest assemblage of state election laws”—to rank each state according to the time and effort it took to vote in each presidential election year from 1996 through 2016. They analyzed the impact of 33 different variables dealing with registration and voting laws, with differences in registration deadlines carrying the most weight.
Oregon took top honors for making it easy on voters in 2016—followed by Colorado, California, North Dakota and Iowa. Illinois was tied for 12th overall with Minnesota. Voters in 2016 faced the most inconveniences on the way to the ballot box in Mississippi—followed by Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Texas.
While the rankings themselves—as well as several significant changes in ranks through the years—are telling, there’s an underlying message in the study, published online ahead of print in Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy. As an open access research study, it is available for free to the public.
“The ballot box is the central democratic institution,” Schraufnagel said. “Voting and elections are key to democracy. One of the things that define the competency of an electoral system and the legitimacy of governing institutions is the ease in which you can vote.