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Key to Trusted Elections: Understanding the Voter Experience

By Natalie Adona / 2018 October 18th

Democracy Fund’s healthy democracy framework identifies voting as the cornerstone of our democracy. The elections process ought to be free, fair, accessible and secure; give voters the information that they need to make informed choices; and must “provide voters with confidence in the integrity of election outcomes and assurance that they have a voice in our democracy.”

We know that the public’s trust and confidence in elections provides the basis for a healthy election system and a healthy democracy. However, prior to heightened concerns around elections cybersecurity, we were surprised to find that there are not many people studying this dimension of public opinion. In the spirit of learning and dialogue, we decided to examine data collected from 2008-2016 via the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to better understand the public’s views on our elections process.

In collaboration with Paul Gronke of Reed College, I am excited to share our findings in a new Democracy Fund report, “Understanding the Voter Experience: The Public’s View of Election Administration and Reform.” This report offers insight into the individual-level decision to vote or not, the public’s’ knowledge and application of voter registration requirements, the over all voter experience, and the public’s trust and confidence in U.S. elections.

The Good News

In Understanding the Voter Experience, we find that the public generally perceives that elections are run with integrity, understands most of what is required of them in order to vote, and have a good experience when voting. When compared to other institutions of in trust, election administration ranks well.

Other encouraging findings include that many people realize that they are responsible for registering and updating their registration; most respondents provide good or excellent job performance ratings for their poll workers and their state and local election officials; and majorities of the folks we surveyed are confident that their own votes and votes across the country are counted as intended.

Areas for Improvement

Our report also shows that the public can benefit from ongoing educational efforts—especially in states that have recently implemented modernization reforms or that have recently changed identification requirements. Significant numbers of our respondents were confused or unfamiliar with their state voter identification requirements pre-election, and our data indicate that they learn about these requirements post-election.

We also found a significant number of people did not know whether online voter registration is available in their state. In fact, nearly 50 percent of the respondents did not know whether their respective states offered online voter registration, and over 17 percent answered incorrectly as to whether their state offered it.

Our report also examines the public’s heavily reliance on the internet for basic election information, which is important because we find that a lack of information may keep people from voting, especially down-ballot races. The data shows that approximately 30-40 percent of respondents consistently felt they did not have enough information to vote on key races like state attorney general, secretary of state, and state senator races.

We hope that “Understanding the Voter Experience” will help election officials, lawmakers, advocates, and others better understand attitudes of the American people toward one of their most-cherished rights, and will encourage more probing of public attitudes about our election system. As you read the report, we welcome your questions and feedback. Please do not hesitate to email me at nadona@democracyfund.org.

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