Today marks the release of the latest edition of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Elections Performance Index (EPI), a measure of how effectively U.S. states administer elections. The news is surprisingly good: there has been a slow but steady improvement in election administration in this country. This good news flies in the face of the typical stories about election problems — hanging chads, long lines at the polls, voter purges in Brooklyn, precinct consolidation in Maricopa County, Ariz. — to say nothing of claims that election outcomes are “rigged.” Stories of electoral malfeasance are real and important, of course. But the EPI goes beyond anecdotes to gauge performance across several dimensions of election administration, including the quality of voter registration, ballot casting, and vote counting. To do so, the EPI relies on 17 indicators, including the average wait time at polling places, voter turnout and registration rates, return and rejection rates of absentee and military/overseas ballots, and the availability of online voter registration and voting information. These indicators are combined into a composite index that captures the degree to which voting is convenient and secure.
The improvement in election administration documented by the EPI between 2010 and 2014 is not dramatic, but it is real. The states that improved the most were those that have gotten better at simply reporting data. States that fully respond to the Election Assistance Commission’s Election Administration and Voting Survey, and thus provide a more complete picture of their election administration performance, are rewarded in the EPI.
Another way that many states improved was by adopting online tools that make voter registration easier. For instance, the number of states offering online registration grew from eight in 2010 to 21 in 2014. The fraction of people saying they failed to vote because of voter registration problems, perhaps not surprisingly, fell between 2010 and 2014.