A new study shows counties can boost voters’ trust in elections by tapping local businesses, unions and schools to recruit poll workers – suggesting a need for investment in the human side of election administration.
Political scientists from Brigham Young University and Kent State University studied voters and poll workers in Ohio during the November 2006 election. Voters gave higher marks to precincts staffed by new poll workers recruited from local schools and businesses to take the day off and be “street-level bureaucrats” for a day.
“If you want to improve elections, improve it from the ground up and get new blood in the poll worker force,” said BYU political scientist Kelly Patterson. “Quality poll workers matter, particularly in the November election where many voting stations will be crowded or have new equipment that voters may be unfamiliar with.”
The study will appear in the July issue of American Politics Research. Prior work by Patterson and BYU’s Quin Monson shows voters’ evaluations of poll workers relate to their level of trust in the voting process. With more trust comes higher voter turnout, the researchers say.
In Ohio’s Franklin County, local employers, unions and teachers were asked to recruit their employees and students to serve as poll workers. A concerted effort was made to invite young poll workers who would be comfortable with new voting technology. In the BYU–Kent State study, both poll workers and voters completed evaluations about their experience. An analysis of voter evaluations shows voters gave more positive evaluations to polling places with the new recruits.
Patterson says such partnerships between counties, businesses and schools are uncommon around the country, noting one Salt Lake County program where businesses and organizations sponsor and provide the entire staff for one or more polling places.
The study also found that voters’ evaluations matched poll workers’ confidence in their training.
“It is as if, consciously or unconsciously, poll workers communicate their sense of adequacy and preparation to voters as they interact with them on Election Day,” Monson said. “Voters can smell fear and uncertainty.”
Specifically the study reveals several areas in which better training can lead to positive experiences for voters:
- Greater space between voting booths translated into perceptions that poll workers “knew what they were doing” and were “helpful”
- Poll workers who felt confident about Ohio’s voter identification laws were judged by voters as more respectful
- Voters gave worse evaluations in voting stations where poll workers felt less confident that votes were counted accurately
The study is titled “At Your Service: Voter Evaluations of Poll Worker Performance.” The study’s two other authors are David Magleby, dean of BYU’s College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, and Ryan Claassen, a political scientist from Kent State University. Magleby, Patterson and Monson conduct research through BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, where Patterson is director, Monson assistant director and Magleby a senior research fellow.
About the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy
The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (CSED) at Brigham Young University is a nonpartisan academic research center seeking to increase knowledge about the practice of American democracy. CSED is committed to the production and dissemination of research that meets high academic standards, is useful to policy makers, and informs citizens. Founded in 1998, CSED has enjoyed significant success securing grants from foundations and other sources totaling several million dollars. CSED-sponsored research has been published in leading academic journals and presses in the areas of campaign finances, voting technology and election reform, presidential and congressional elections, religion and politics and democratic deliberation. CSED scholars frequently provide expert commentary on national and local politics in areas related to their research. The views expressed in this release do not necessarily represent the views of Brigham Young University and its sponsoring institution. More information about CSED can be found at http://csed.byu.edu.
Writer: Brady Toone