February 27, 2013
New Elections Performance Index Inspired by Prof. Heather Gerken’s Democracy Index
In 2009, Heather Gerken, J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School, published the Democracy Index – a book that proposed ranking U.S. states on how well they run elections. The rankings would be based on the concerns of everyday voters: How long were the lines? How many ballots got discarded? How hard was it to vote? Gerken argued that the ranking would motivate poor performing states to do better and would help identify best practices among successful states.
Fast-forward to January 2013 when the Pew Charitable Trusts released an Index inspired by Gerken’s proposal. The Elections Performance Index examines election administration performance across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The index measures state performance based on 17 indicators including the length of lines, the accuracy of voting technology, and the percentage of voters who experienced problems registering or casting an absentee ballot. Much like the proposed Democacy Index, the EPI is designed to help improve American democracy by assisting election officials and policymakers in benchmarking performance over time and assessing which policies are working effectively.
Among those that scored lowest on the EPI in data collected from the 2008 election: the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and Alabama. Those that fared the best included Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Georgia. The Pew Charitable Trusts plans on releasing a new index every two years as soon as the federal data are available.
“It was thrilling to have a chance to work with the Pew Charitable Trusts on this project,” Gerken says. “They are known to be an assiduously nonpartisan, and they have a proven track record of helping states do the type of data-driven management that is ubiquitous in the private sector.” Gerken was especially surprised by the process that Pew used to create the index. “It was as rigorous, professional, and fair-minded as anything I’ve seen,” she said. “The EPI is sure to be the marker for election performance going forward.”
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