APSA paper on the selection method of election officials

Oct. 26, 2010, 10:15 a.m.

Democracy assistance practitioners are aware that the structure of an Electoral Management Body (EMB) is a critical element in effective and fair election administration.  The legal framework for how the members of an EMB are appointed varies greatly from country to country, with each model offering a unique set of advantages and disadvantages.  (For a good breakdown of some of the EMB structures, view International IDEA’s Electoral Management Design handbook).

Although practitioners should be aware that local context is important, it is always helpful to have an understanding of how EMB design can shape incentives and affect the management of elections.   In a paper submitted to APSA, Barry C. Burden, David T. Canon, Stéphane Lavertu, Kenneth R. Mayer, and Donald P. Moynihan have explored the effect of partisan EMB membership on the body’s behavior.  In their paper, Election Officials: How Selection Methods Shape Their Policy Preferences and Affect Voter Turnout, the authors find that how clerks are selected has a noticeable impact on the body’s priorities.

We employ a uniquely rich dataset that includes the survey responses of over 1,200 Wisconsin election officials, structured interviews with dozens of these officials, and data from the 2008 presidential election. Drawing upon a natural experiment in how clerks are selected, we find that elected officials support policies that emphasize voter access rather than ballot security, and that their municipalities are associated with higher voter turnout. For appointed officials, we find that voter turnout in a municipality is noticeably lower when the local election official’s partisanship differs from the partisanship of the electorate. Overall, our results support the notion that selection methods, and the incentives that flow from those methods, matter a great deal. Elected officials are more likely to express attitudes and generate outcomes that reflect their direct exposure to voters, in contrast to the more insulated position of appointed officials.

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