Measuring Democracy in America (2022-2023)

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 or other key aspects of American democracy 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

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
"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

/graduate Team Members

  • Allyson Barkley, Juris Doctor
  • Alicia Blanco, Masters of Public Policy
  • Paul Finkelstein, Juris Doctor

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Samia Batchelor, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Clara Bonzi Teixeira, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Saralyn Carcy, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • James Gao, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Min Gim, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Victoria Hernandez, Political Science (AB)
  • Mia Hoeve, Economics (BS)
  • Karam Oubari, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Yadira Paz-Martinez
  • Olivia Smith
  • Darshan Vijaykumar, Public Policy Studies (AB)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Michael Smeltzer, Freedom House