Pew Charitable Trusts – “an independent nonprofit organization that applies an analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life” – has created the nation’s first Elections Performance Index. Based on the recommendations of Professor Heather Gerken’s Democracy Index, this elections performance index ranks a state’s election performance based on 17 measurable factors; such as “polling location wait times, availability of voting information tools online, the number of rejected voter registrations, the percentage of voters with registration or absentee ballot problems, how many military and overseas ballots were rejected, voter turnout, and the accuracy of voting technology.”
Professor Gerken explains that while the EPI isn’t perfect, it is “best understood as a baseline for measuring election performance going forward.” She points out that indices “allow us to spot, surface, and solve problems by making election problems visible to everyone,” and even more important than that, “they allow us to judge state performance against a realistic baseline – how a jurisdiction compares to its neighbors – rather than relying on a crisis to tell us there’s a problem.” Using this EPI, Professor Gerken explains that we’ll be able to see the impacts of policy changes, such as with the military and overseas voting process. Furthermore, it will help pinpoint problems in troubled areas; making it easier for low-performing jurisdictions to lobby for the help they need.
But don’t take her word for it! Pew has made their research available to the public via pewstates.org for the 2008 and 2010 elections. North Dakota came out on top for the 2010 election with an overall EPI of 82%; with 2008′s previous winner, Washington, coming in second with an overall EPI of 76%. Sadly, it’s not all good news. Mississippi came in last in 2010 with an overall EPI of 37%; and two of our most populated states, New York and California, were close behind with overall EPIs of 45% and 48% respectively. Our home state of Illinois was in the lower half of the states scored in 2010 with a less than impressive EPI score of 60%. Notable indicators that helped contribute to Illinois’ low score are: “high rate of registrations rejected, high rate of provisional ballots rejected, high rate of absentee ballots unreturned, and a high rate of military and overseas ballots unreturned.”
It looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us in making elections more secure, but knowing our weaknesses is half the battle!