Press Release

Pew: 40 States, the District Improved Election Performance in 2014

Connecticut and Virginia in top 5 for first time; fewer military and overseas ballots unreturned

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Washington—Between 2010 and 2014, states’ overall election performance ratings improved by 5.1 percentage points, according to the latest Elections Performance Index (EPI), released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The expanded index, an online interactive tool, allows users to assess state election administration by looking at indicators such as voter turnout, 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, and accuracy of voting technology.

The tool also makes it possible to measure how well the 50 states and the District of Columbia conduct elections compared not only with other states, but also over time.

”With information from the 2014 election, the Election Performance Index now allows state officials and the public to compare data from two mid-term elections as well as two presidential contests,” said Alexis Schuler, who oversees election initiatives at Pew. “We hope this tool will help spur improvements in election administration.”

Overall, 40 states and the District improved from 2010 to 2014. The EPI scores of 24 states and the District rose at a rate greater than the national average, with Connecticut and Virginia rising into the top five for the first time. Another 16 states improved but didn’t keep pace with the national average. Mississippi improved the most—by 19 points—but still remained among the lower overall performers.

Eight states—Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia—improved their rankings by 10 or more places. The performance of the remaining 10 states declined. States’ overall performance scores are calculated and averaged based on the 17 indicators that make up the index, as agreed upon by an expert advisory group of election officials and academics led by Charles Stewart III, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“This index documents a slow but steady improvement in election administration across the nation in recent years,” said Stewart. “For 2014, the continued growth in the availability of online voter registration was one notable factor that helped many states move up in the rankings. By combining criteria like online voting registration into a composite index, EPI provides a broad view of the factors that lead to good election administration.”

Further findings include:

  • 20 states plus the District offered online voter registration in 2014, compared with 13 states in 2012, eight in 2010, and two in 2008.
  • The average reported wait time to vote across all states in 2014 was 3.8 minutes; the longest was 8.8 minutes in North Carolina. As expected with the typically much lower turnout during midterm elections than presidential contests, the waits reported in 2014 were shorter than those in 2008 (14.4 minutes) and 2012 (11.9 minutes). The 2014 EPI is the first to include wait times to vote for a midterm election, so no points of comparison are available from the 2010 index.
  • Diligence in reporting election data greatly improved, with 26 states and the District reporting 100 percent of the EPI-relevant categories of data to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, up from 18 states in 2012 and 11 and the District in 2010. Improved data collection allows analysts to more precisely assess how well elections are run and how to fine-tune them.
  • Overall voter turnout dropped approximately 5 percentage points in 2014 compared with the midterm elections in 2010. Turnout in 2014 was higher in the West, Northeast, and Midwest than in the South.
  • Although the percentage of eligible voters casting ballots dropped in 2014 compared with 2010, the rate of those deterred by illness or disability or because of problems with registration or absentee ballots also fell.
  • 14 states offered voters all five recommended online lookup tools in 2014, up from 10 in 2010. For the first time, all states offered at least one tool.
  • Fewer military and overseas ballots—43.3 percent—were unreturned in 2014, down from 53.1 percent in 2010.
  • States in the top 25 percent were Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Nine of these—Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wisconsin­—were also high performers in 2010, with Colorado, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin also having been high performers in all four years of the EPI.
  • Those in the bottom 25 percent were Alabama, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Eight of these—Alabama, California, the District, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, and Oklahoma—also ranked at the bottom in 2010.

The findings reveal areas in which some states can improve elections to make them more cost-effective and efficient. Among the most valuable areas are collecting more and better data; upgrading voter registration systems, including implementing online voter registration; and using polling place management tools to allocate resources and reduce waits. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration also recommended these practices.

This study draws upon quantifiable data for all 50 states and the District 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. View the complete methodology, available online.

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The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/topics/state-policy.

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