Between 2008 and 2012, state election performance overall improved by 4.4 percentage points, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts' latest Elections Performance Index, released today. The expanded index makes it possible for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to measure how well they conducted elections compared not only with other states, but also over time.
This annual study allows states to measure election administration by looking at such indicators as wait times at polling locations, availability of voting information tools online, rejection of voter registrations, problems with registration or absentee ballots, rejection of military and overseas ballots, voter turnout, and accuracy of voting technology.
“We know common-sense solutions to improve elections exist. States are pioneering innovations that make a real difference in the efficiency and accuracy of their elections operations while also saving money,” said David Becker, director of Pew's election initiatives project. “The Election Performance Index allows policymakers to pinpoint what's working while also identifying areas where improvement is needed.”
Overall, 40 states and the district improved their scores in the 2012 election, compared with 2008. The scores of 21 states and the district rose at a rate greater than the national average, 19 states' averages improved but didn't keep pace with the national average, and 10 states' performance declined. The district improved the most—20 points—from 2008 to 2012 but still remained among the lower performers.
Overall, Georgia showed the sharpest decline, dropping 7 points from 2008 to 2012. The state's voter turnout fell below the national average, and the state had one of the largest increases in nonvoting due to disability or illness. Georgia also did not add online voter registration or post-election audits of voting equipment performance, which many other states have implemented since 2008. Hawaii and Vermont also had large drops in overall performance.
Research shows that states offering more convenient opportunities for voter registration had a lower rate of rejected registrations, lower use of provisional ballots, and fewer voters unable to cast ballots due to registration problems. Meanwhile states that utilized the latest technology to conduct data matching of state voter registration lists, such as the Electronic Registration Information Center, had a reduced rate of provisional ballots cast and rejected and in individuals who experienced registration problems.
A state's overall performance is calculated and averaged based on the 17 indicators that make up the index, each agreed upon by an expert advisory group led by Charles Stewart III, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This study draws upon quantifiable data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement, the Election Assistance Commission's Election Administration and Voting Survey and its Statutory Overview, state election division records, the Survey of the Performance of American Elections, George Mason University's United States Elections Project, and Pew's reports “Being Online Is Not Enough” and “Being Online Is Still Not Enough.” Download the complete methodology.