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Democracy Index

The Proposal

Professor Gerken's "Democracy Index" proposes that states be ranked based on how well they run their election systems. The Democracy Index would focus on the everyday issues that matter to all voters: How long did you spend in line? How many ballots got discarded? How often did voting machines break down? 

President Barack Obama on the Democracy Index

“We are all familiar with the problems of long lines, lost ballots, and voters improperly turned away from the polls during recent elections. To prevent these problems, we need nonpartisan, objective information about how well election processes around the country are working. . . . Without a single, additional federal regulation, this scorecard could provide a powerful incentive for states to improve our democracy.”

Click here to view the press release.

“I am proud to introduce the Voter Advocate and Democracy Index Act of 2007 . . . .The Democracy Index would encourage healthy competition among States to improve their systems. It would allow states to engage in healthy experimentation about how best to run an election. In short, the Democracy Index will empower voters and encourage States to work toward the goal we all share: an election system that makes us all proud.”

Click here to view the Congressional record statement.

How the Index Would Work

The Index would give voters, policymakers, and election administrators the information they need to make sensible decisions about how our democracy functions. 

Voters. Without reliable, comparative data on how well our election system is working, voters cannot hold election officials accountable for their mistakes.With good data on bottom line results, voters find out when there’s a problem when an election is so close that the outcome is in doubt, as with Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004. Voters thus rarely see the problems that routinely occur in a system that is chronically underfunded, often poorly run, and sometimes administered in a partisan fashion. Depending on a close election to find out whether the system is working is like measuring annual rainfall by counting how often lightning strikes. The Index would give voters the information they need to identify problems before a crisis occurs. Moreover, by making problems visible to voters, the Index would and create an incentive for politicians to pay attention to how well the system is working. The Index would thus align the incentives of voters and politicians, putting partisan competition – the primary obstacle to change – in the service of reform.  

Policymakers and election administrators. Policymakers and election administrators similarly need the information that an Index would provide. Without reliable, comparative data on bottom-line results, election officials cannot evaluate whether the system is working, let alone identify best practices. The Index would help policymakers make the election system a funding priority while encouraging election administrators to develop a strong set of professional norms on the standards that every election system should meet.

Comments About the Book

“What a terrific idea! Heather Gerken makes a powerful argument that with the Democracy Index, ranking states and localities, we can create a little competition to improve our electoral process. She makes the brilliant suggestion that democratic checks should be enlisted to improve democracy itself. In the process of elaborating what may well be the best recent idea for promoting electoral reform, Gerken offers a fun and engaging read. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Cass R. Sunstein, coauthor of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness

“The idea that drives The Democracy Index is fresh, original, and potentially of genuine practical importance in improving the performance of our election system. Heather Gerken writes with energy, flair, and a conversational, engaging tone that draws readers in.”
—Richard Pildes, coauthor of The Law of Democracy

“The idea of The Democracy Index is brilliant and it seems obvious once it is stated. I suspect that I will not be alone in wishing that I had come up with the idea. This book will appeal to a wide audience.”
—Michael Hanmer, coauthor of Voting Technology: The Not-So-Simple Act of Casting a Ballot

The Democracy Index is very exciting. It covers all the important aspects of the index and effectively explains how it could improve the electoral process.”
—Thad Hall, coauthor of Electronic Elections

Additional Materials

Proposed Legislation

Popular Writing

Academic Writing

Supporting Materials Referenced in Book

Tobin Project's Democracy Index

Heather Gerken
About the Author
Heather Gerken is the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School where she specializes in election law, constitutional law, and civil procedure. Professor Gerken is one of the country's leading experts on voting rights and election law. Click here to view a copy of Professor Gerken's C.V.