The Impact of Election Jurisdiction Size

A recent draft paper by David Kimball, University of Missouri-Saint Louis, and Brady Baybeck, Wayne State University, 07-17-2011found that, in the 2008 presidential election, large jurisdictions—those serving more than 50,000 voters—accounted for approximately two-thirds of the nation’s voters.

The 4,893 medium-sized jurisdictions, serving between 1,000 and 50,000 voters, accounted for nearly one-third of all voters, and the 5,149 small jurisdictions, serving fewer than 1,000 voters, accounted for just more than one percent of all voters.

These size differences have a significant impact on election administration. For example:

  • Census data show that large jurisdictions have to deal with more mobile populations; they generally have a smaller percentage of residents who have not moved in the past five years than small or medium-sized jurisdictions.
  • The vast majority of provisional ballots, absentee ballots, and ballots for military and overseas voters come from large jurisdictions; and
  • The median number of poll workers in a small jurisdiction is just five as compared to 40 in a medium-sized jurisdiction and 753 in a large jurisdiction.

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