In April 2007, Pew’s Make Voting Work initiative and the JEHT Foundation released a joint invitation calling for proposals for funding that sought to identify new ways to measure the health and performance of elections and to develop and evaluate pilot projects offering innovative approaches to improve the election process. The goal was to draw on the expertise of election officials and academics currently studying elections issues—while also seeking to identify new partners from private-sector companies and diverse academic disciplines. The winning projects focus on evaluating strategies for improving voter registration systems, polling place access, and poll worker training and on election audits and performance assessment.
“We are pleased this unprecedented effort has already yielded such strong partnerships. The involvement of state and local election officials across the country in these projects is crucial since they have the knowledge, experience and opportunity to improve the nuts and bolts of voting. Make Voting Work addresses the lack of empirical evidence and examines on-the-ground experience to yield real solutions. The ultimate goal is a more successful process for citizens participating in democracy through the fundamental act of voting,” said Rachel Leon, senior manager for fair and participatory elections at the JEHT Foundation, in the same prepared statement to the press.
Make Voting Work selected the 16 projects, which focus their work on five distinct areas where major failings have been identified and improvements are being debated and implemented by election officials, but where additional expertise is desired and necessary to shape and evaluate these efforts. These areas include:
Successful voter registration systems enable eligible citizens to vote without undue burden, secure our elections from those ineligible to participate and facilitate communication with voters. Yet, registration rolls are created from piecemeal data collected by local election officials, state motor vehicle agencies and other nonpartisan and partisan get-out-the-vote campaigns. As a result, rolls fail to keep pace with a mobile society and are often inaccurate and costly to maintain. Make Voting Work has awarded five contracts for a combined total of over $669,000 to assess strategies for improving voter registration systems. Recipients include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is working with local election officials in Los Angeles, CA, New Haven, CT, Miami-Dade, FL, and Phoenix, AZ; the Washington Secretary of State’s office and Washington State University; the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, which is working with state and local election officials in Indiana and Kentucky, the U.S. Postal Service and the California Institute of Technology; the Overseas Vote Foundation; and the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office and University of Minnesota.
States are increasingly grappling with the problem of overcrowded, inconveniently located and poorly designed polling places. In response, some states are experimenting with vote centers that replace neighborhood precincts and allow voters to cast ballots at large, centralized polling places anywhere in their city or county—near their work, school, shopping center or other destination. The innovation is in its infancy and important questions have been raised, including how to determine where vote centers should be located and what their impact is on voter turnout and the cost of running elections. Make Voting Work has awarded three contracts for a combined total of $568,000 to Ball State University, which is working with local election officials in Tippecanoe and Wayne counties in Indiana; Rice University, which is working with local election officials throughout Colorado and two Texas jurisdictions, Fort Bend and Lubbock; and the University of Tennessee, which is working with local election officials in Knox, Anderson and Loudon counties.
Volunteer poll workers are the foot soldiers of democracy, but, as recently documented by Pew’s electionline.org, their enthusiasm needs to be joined with proper training—particularly essential as voting systems and rules take on greater complexity. Studies show that poor poll worker performance impacts elections and harms voter confidence. More effective and convenient methods of training, such as online training, hold the promise of better equipped poll workers and greater voter confidence. Make Voting Work has awarded two contracts for a combined total of over $318,000 to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office to test an online training system and to HAVA Partners, a private-sector firm which is collaborating with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, Brigham Young University and University of Cincinnati.
To further help election officials, policy makers and the public assess the true impact of changes in policies, practices and technologies, Make Voting Work aspires to identify means that can be consistently applied to measure accuracy, convenience, efficiency and security. Make Voting Work has awarded two contracts for a combined total of $465,000 to Reed College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to design several assessments and apply them across selected jurisdictions.
In each of these areas and others where additional pilot projects and case studies will be commissioned over the coming months, Make Voting Work is establishing working groups comprised of the research teams for each project together with respected election officials, experts from the private sector and other needed specialists and representatives from affected communities. The working groups will help oversee the implementation of individual projects, evaluate and refine methodologies, offer a peer review and dissemination forum and develop strategies to ensure that proven innovations are engrained in the policies and practices of the field. All research will be disseminated through Pew’s Web site and directly by the research teams. To inform Pew and JEHT’s ongoing contribution, Make Voting Work will also host a series of major public forums on these research initiatives and additional challenges facing the field of election administration throughout 2008 and 2009.
The Pew Charitable Trusts "applies the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems." Pew’s Center on the States identifies and advances effective policy approaches to critical issues facing states.
The JEHT Foundation was established in April 2000 to support its donors' interests in human rights, social justice and community building.
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This story was published on January 16, 2008.