Evaluating Voting System Fairness in the United States (2022-2023)

This project team is part of our “pop-up theme” on democracy and governance in a polarized world. Student recruitment for this team will take place in June 2022.

Background

Free and fair elections are the fundamental building block of democracy. In the U.S.’s federal system, the fifty states have widely different procedures for managing all aspects of the voting system. These divergent practices have long been a matter of controversy, and disputes over the integrity of the 2020 presidential election only exacerbated such concerns. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in 2021, 19 states passed 34 new voting laws, many of which restrict access to voting. Analysts predict that this trend is likely to continue.  

In 2021, Texas passed a sweeping new voting law. Advocates for the law claimed that even with the changes, Texas’s ballot access requirements still compared favorably to other states. Yet, there are no studies, reports or scorecards available to test these claims or provide an objective analysis comparing the fairness and integrity of the electoral systems across the U.S. Such comparative analysis is important to ensuring that all U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live, have reliable access to the ballot box. Providing transparency into the varying practices across states can help protect democracy and inform voting law reforms.  

Project Description

This project team will determine if a scorecard evaluation of state election systems can make a positive contribution to the debate over democracy protection. If so, team members will create a proof-of-concept methodology for the scorecard that could be implemented in subsequent stages of the project. If a successful methodology is developed, later stages of the project could seek to gather data and apply the methodology to each state and issue a report with numeric rankings of each state and an explanation of these rankings, possibly in advance of the 2024 election.  

Team members will conduct a landscape analysis to determine if and what kind of similar efforts have been made in the past. Team members will also examine other “scorecard” programs, such as the annual Freedom in the World reports issued by Freedom House that create overall “freedom” rankings for every country in the world and determines if extant ranking systems have gaps in coverage. The team will research state electoral systems to identify all the features of these systems from beginning to end that may affect their fairness.

In order to evaluate whether a new index would contribute to the debate over democracy protection and be credible, sustainable and reproducible across states, team members will identify data sources that are available to assess and score various features of electoral systems. Data collection based on a sample of states through public-domain research will assist in the development of the scoring methodology. Ideally, the team will aspire to apply this methodology to all 50 states. 

Anticipated Outputs

Scorecard evaluation; biannual reports

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will consist of 1-2 graduate students and 8-12 undergraduate students. A graduate student will be selected to serve as the team’s project manager. Graduate students should have a background in public policy, political science, law and/or statistics. Undergraduate students who have backgrounds in political science with an understanding of voting systems and/or a background in data science, data analysis and/or statistics are encouraged to apply.

Team members will have the opportunity to conceptualize objective ways to create comparative assessments of law, policies and budgets. Students will also gain expertise in the methodology of developing “scorecards” and will engage in data collection and analysis. Students will learn how to express their comparative judgments in clear, effective prose. 

In Fall 2022, the full team will meet weekly on Mondays from 3:30-4:45 p.m. Team members will divide into subteams once the desirable discreet elements of the electoral systems are identified. Subteams will be responsible for developing the scoring criteria and determining what data is available to use for scoring for 1-2 areas of the electoral system. Each sub-team will have a faculty or a graduate student lead and will also meet regularly. 

The team is seeking one graduate student to conduct preparatory research in Summer 2022 to be distributed for analysis to team members at the beginning of the fall semester. 

Timing

Summer 2022 – Summer 2023 

  • Summer 2022 (optional): Graduate student begins research; prepare scorecard methodology
  • Fall 2022: Conduct literature review; examine data sources; establish scorecard methodology 
  • Spring 2023: Apply methodology to sample states; write reports
  • Summer 2023 (optional): Publish reports

Crediting

Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

"I Voted" stickers.

Team Leaders

  • Kristin Goss, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Asher Hildebrand, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Deondra Rose, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • David Schanzer, Sanford School of Public Policy

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Judith Kelley, Sanford School of Public Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Michael Abramowitz, Freedom House