Editorials: ‘Bad News Bears’ of elections | Heather Gerken/The Hill

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) may be one of the most beleaguered administrative agencies in the country, with many a Washington politician trying to axe it. If Keith Olbermann were running a “worst agency in the world” contest, the EAC might even get more votes than its sister agency, the ever-so-dysfunctional FEC (the Federal Election Commission).  The EAC has been under attack from its inception – the National Association of Secretaries of State called for its destruction even before it was up and running. Two full years after the Help America Vote Act created the agency, the commission did not even have an office, let alone a mailing address or a phone number. The EAC’s first commissioners held their meetings in a local Starbucks. The EAC, however, has turned out to be the Bad News Bears. It had a rocky start, and still looks a bit ramshackle to the outside world, but, while almost no one was looking, the agency has initiated a major, positive shift in how American elections are run.

National: Shining a Spotlight on How the Laboratories of Democracy Are Administering Elections | Work in Progress

A recurring lament among reformers is that the basic structural features of our constitutional system get in the way of needed change. For example, many believe that our federal system decentralizes policy-making and gives rise to partisan feuds in ways that thwart the adoption of positive reforms and enable bad situations to persist. This is certainly a common refrain with respect to our decentralized system for administering elections and the chronic problems associated with it. But there is a silver lining sewn into our federal system—namely, the potential for experimentation, innovation, and—not least—productive competition among what Justice Brandeis called our “laboratories of democracy.” State and local governments are free in many domains to tackle common problems differently, as they might see fit. Superior approaches developed in one state or locality can thus be adopted in places where performance is subpar. If not, the onus is on the underperforming policy-makers and administrators to explain themselves to their underserved citizens.

Voting Blogs: The Election Performance Index and Election Reform: The Early Returns Are Promising | Heather Gerken/Election Law Blog

I want to offer a brief response to Rick Hasen’s post about the release of Pew’s 2012 Election Performance Index.  Now that we can assess state performance across two comparable elections, he asks an excellent question:  Will we see states trying to improve their performance?  I suggested as much in my book, The Democracy Index:  Why Our System is Failing and How to Fix It, where I proposed creating a ranking like the EPI. It’s only been a few days, of course, but the early returns are heartening.  States are obviously paying attention; there are lots of stories about states touting their rise in the rankings or grumbling about their scores, with more discussions happening behind the scenes. More importantly, election officials are already using the EPI to push for reform.

Voting Blogs: Pew’s Election Performance Index | Heather Gerken/Election Law Blog

A few years ago, I proposed creating a “Democracy Index” that would rank states and localities based on how well they run elections.  Since then, the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan organization well known for promoting data-driven governance, has tried to put these ideas into action.  It created the nation’s first Elections Performance Index, which was released this week.  The EPI measures state performance based on seventeen indicators, which include the length of lines, the accuracy of voting technology, and the percentage of voters who experienced problems registering or casting an absentee ballot. The process for creating the Index was remarkable – as serious and professional an undertaking as I’ve witnessed.  Pew itself devoted significant funding and top-notch staffers to the project.  It also assembled an extraordinary group of advisors, which included some  of the top state and local election administrators in the country.  The legendary Charles Stewart, the former chair of MIT’s political science department, served as the data expert (though that seems a bit like calling a Ferrari a “car”).  The Pew staff and advisors — along with numerous outside experts Pew called in to poke and prod and test and challenge the validity of the indicators – narrowed down a list of almost fifty potential performance indicators to the seventeen you see on the website.  A huge amount of effort was put in to be sure the indicators were measuring something meaningful, and that the data gave us genuine signals rather than noise.  I am frankly amazed that Pew came up with so many good measures – it’s a testament to the creativity of the team, especially the political scientists who were involved.