Report: Election administration improving, in most states

The average voter who cast a ballot on Election Day in 2012 had to wait in line for three minutes less than he or she would have in 2008, while fewer people with disabilities or illnesses had problems voting, according to a new report measuring election administration procedures across the country.

The report, published Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trust’s State and Consumer Initiatives program, found a sharp increase in the number of states that offered online voter registration, the number of states conducting post-election audits and the number of states that offer a transparent look at the data they collect.

Overall, the Pew researchers found, states that improved the most year over year embraced technological reforms that made the process function more smoothly, from evaluating absentee and provisional ballots to hurrying people through lines and judging their own effectiveness in order to spotlight areas for improvement.

“This is a bipartisan mix of states. This is not something that only Republicans or Democrats have license to,” said David Becker, Pew’s director of Election Initiatives. “It’s really a technological reform-based mindset.”

States that performed best across the varied criteria included North Dakota, which has ranked at the top of all three Pew Elections Performance Index reports (Explore Pew’s data here). Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado all scored high marks.


(Source: Pew Charitable Trusts)

Mississippi, on the other hand, finished at the bottom of the list. Voters in that state had to wait longer than the national average, turned out at lower rates and had no way to register online. The state submitted far less data on the number of absentee ballots rejected or the number of military and overseas voters whose ballots didn’t count.

The Pew survey measured state performance on 17 indicators, ranging from the number of mail-in ballots that were rejected to the number of voter registrations rejected.

Voters saw the amount of time they spent waiting in line reduced in 30 states. Wait times shrank by 36 minutes on average in South Carolina, almost 20 minutes in Georgia and more than 10 minutes in Missouri and Arizona. But voters in Florida waited in line for an average of 45 minutes, 16 minutes longer than they waited in 2008. Montana voters spent 10 more minutes in line this time around than in 2008.

More residents of the District of Columbia, 92 percent, are registered to vote than any other state. Nine in ten eligible residents in Michigan and Mississippi are registered to vote as well. Just 71 percent of Hawaii residents are signed up to vote, along with three quarters of Wyoming residents and 76 percent of those living in Arkansas.

Voters with disabilities or illnesses had the highest incidence of trouble casting ballots in the District of Columbia, while disabled voters in Washington State, where elections are conducted entirely by mail, had the fewest problems. But Washington’s reliance on absentee ballots means that state elections officials rejected more mail-in ballots than any other state; Oregon, which also conducts elections entirely by mail, and Colorado and Arizona, where a disproportionate number of voters cast absentee ballots, also rejected higher numbers of those ballots.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia submitted a complete roster of 18 core statistics to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s Election Administration and Voting Survey in 2012, up from just seven states in 2008. Six years ago, just two states — Arizona and Washington — offered voters the chance to register online. By 2010, that number had grown to include Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon and Utah. By 2012, 13 states offered online registration.

Change between 2008 rankings and 2012 rankings. Source: Pew Charitable Trusts
Change between 2008 rankings and 2012 rankings. (Source: Pew Charitable Trusts)
Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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