What’s Wrong With the Election System? David Kimball University of Missouri-St. Louis December 5, 2002
Outline • Impetus for an examination of voting methods in the United States • Research findings • Recommendations for election reforms and issues for future elections
2000 Presidential Election:“A Perfect Storm” • Florida Official Results • George W. Bush – 2,912,790 votes • Al Gore – 2,912,253 votes • Bush wins Florida by 537 votes. • Approximately 180,000 ballots in Florida failed to record a vote for president (roughly 3% of ballots cast). • Nationally, about 2 million unrecorded votes in the presidential election of 2000.
How Can You Fail to Cast a Vote? • Overvote: Selecting too many candidates • Undervote: Not selecting any candidates
NORC/Media Consortium Review of Florida Ballots • Most unrecorded votes in Florida were overvotes (68%). • Half of the undervotes in Florida were failed attempts to vote for a single candidate. • Half of the undervotes Florida were “genuine” (blank). • Almost 25,000 of the unrecorded votes in Florida could have been counted.
What’s Happened Since Florida? • Each state and county has asked “Could Florida happen here?” • Federal legislation – the Help America Vote Act of 2002 • State legislation – Missouri included • Research to examine the correlates of unrecorded votes and find out what works and what does not.
Research on Unrecorded Votes • Examined election returns from counties in 2000 • Examined precinct returns in Florida and Illinois • Primarily a cross-sectional analysis • Other studies, including multiple elections (Caltech/MIT Voting Project, groups at Maryland, Berkeley, Harvard)
Factors Examined • Voting technology • Ballot features and design • Election features • Demographics • Socio-economic disparity in unrecorded votes.
Local Control of Elections • Election administration is primarily a matter of local (county) control. • This creates a lot of variation in voting methods across the country. • Great for researchers • Headaches for election reformers • Voting technology is a prime example
Voting Technology Results • Votomatic punch card ballots clearly produce the highest rate of unrecorded votes in contests at the top of the ballot. • Newer voting technology that allows voters to discover and correct mistakes reduce the number of unrecorded votes, especially in low-income or minority precincts. • DRE • Precinct-count optical scan
Ballot Design • Ballot design has been largely overlooked as a cause of unrecorded votes. • Several ballot features are important • Number of columns • Straight-party option • “None of the above” option
Percentage of Unrecorded Votes in the 2000 Presidential Election (Counties)
Recommendations • If cost and staffing is no object, replace punch card voting systems and adopt ballot features that reduce the number of unrecorded votes. • Switching to new voting technology is costly. Making ballot design improvements is relatively inexpensive. • Consider uniform voting systems at the state level? • A potential concern is the growing use of absentee and mail-in voting.