Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kropf & Kimball's Helping America Vote

I recommend Martha Kropf and David Kimball's Helping America Vote: The Limits of Electoral Reform (2012). Martha is a friend and colleague down the hall here at UNC Charlotte, so I'm biased, but this is a nice, succinct look at the mess left in the wake of the 2000 presidential election and the unintended consequences of the 2002 Helping America Vote Act. Basically, our system of voting is even more messed up than you thought.

They discuss the issues of access (making sure there are as few barriers to voting as possible), favored more by Democrats) and integrity (making sure there is as little fraud as possible, more favored by Republicans) and how they came together in 2000 to make both political parties focus on voting technology as the main answer to the country's electoral problems. That did reduce residual votes, but the specific type of technology matters a lot and of course there is wide variation of technology even within states. Further, aside from technology, they show empirically how ballot design affects voting.

Another unintended consequences is the consolidation of polling places as a way to save money since the new technology is pricey (and keeps requiring updates). That, in turn, makes it harder for many people to vote because they have to travel farther to do so and/or because they don't know where to go. For this reason, consolidation leads to decreased turnout.

And finally, the individuals administering the elections matter. They have political preferences of their own, and how they are chosen varies considerably. As they discuss, that point has received far less attention than the machines.

Their discussion of the morass of local, state, and federal laws and regulations also reminded me a lot of immigration.  In both cases, you end up with a patchwork of confusion. States simultaneously want autonomy but also want the federal government to help fund reform.

A final point is that in the broad debate over the policy relevance of academia, the book shows how academic studies were important in defining problems of access and integrity.


Natalia S. Bueno 7:19 PM  

Nice book tip. This made me think of D. Hidalgo's work on Digital Democratization in Brazil. You don't even need an encompassing electoral reform to have an impact on voting enfranchisement, null/blank votes, etc. In the case of Brazil, voting technologies had a huge impact.

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