Electoral Integrity in the 2018 American Elections (PEI-US-2018)

This report provides an assessment of the performance of all 50 states + DC in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, compared with the 2016 contest. It applies the expert survey methods used since 2012 by the Electoral Integrity Project to measure and compare the quality of contests around the world.

The team of researchers is composed by Professor Pippa Norris, (Director of EIP Harvard/Sydney), Holly Ann Garnett (Royal Military College, Canada), and Max Grömping (Heidelberg University).

PROBLEMS OF ELECTORAL INTEGRITY

Electoral administration in the US has become increasingly partisan and litigious ever since Bush v. Gore in Florida in the 2000 Presidential elections (Hason 2012). Questions have arisen concerning the security, integrity, inclusiveness, convenience, and accuracy of the registration and balloting processes in America.

These issues were documented in the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Electoral Administration, established by President Obama (Bauer and Ginsberg 2014). The Commission reported that contemporary standards of electoral administration were highly uneven across the country.  It recommended a series of practical reforms to the election process.

The Elections Performance Index conducted in 2014 by the Pew Center and in 2016 by MIT’s Election Data + Science Lab also suggest that states varies in how they performed against a range of quality indicators in the presidential and the mid-term contests.
 
In  2016,  a range of problems arose during the campaign and on polling day, some trivial, others more serious.  Throughout the 2016 presidential election campaign, Donald Trump warned about the risks of widespread fraud, claiming afterwards that millions of votes were cast illegally. The security services reported how the Democratic National Committee computer server was hacked and materials distributed through Wikileaks. In addition, social media were awash with trolls disseminating fake news, misinformation and disinformation (Jamieson 2019). The intelligence community and the Mueller Report subsequently concluded that the culprits were Russian. This led to widespread concern prior to polling day in the 2018 midterm elections that contests remained vulnerable to these security risks, as well as the challenges posed by fake news, voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering and voter fraud. In 2018 Congress allocated additional funds and the Department of Homeland Security cooperated closely with election officials in many states to tighten the security of official registration and voting records.

Moreover the Brennan Center documented how states also introduced many changes to the complex legal framework governing the mosaic of American election procedures. Some states facilitated easier and more convenient processes for citizens, such as ‘automatic’ registration, but others sought to tighten voting security through stricter voting requirements. As argued elsewhere (Norris, Cameron and Wynter 2019), electoral laws in America are seen through a strongly partisan lens, but there are potential bipartisan reforms which can strengthen both inclusion and security, these are not necessarily trade-offs, thereby strengthening public confidence in the process.

On polling day in November 2018, how did state elections perform? Were there improvements in the quality of the voter experience when casting ballots? What evidence allows us to monitor changes over time in each state?

METHODS AND RESEARCH DESIGN

To examine how any the performance of elections varied by US state, the Electoral Integrity Project used an expert survey to compare assessments across America. 

The 2014 pilot study used a random sampling procedure to select 21 states. For the 2016 and 2018 studies, all 50 states plus DC were included. Fieldwork using the PEI-US questionnaire was conducted during the month following polling day. The PEI-US-2018 survey was compiled from responses received from 574 election experts in total. The online survey questionnaire includes 49 core items on electoral integrity. These are used to construct the overall 100-point standardized Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index and similar indices are created for each of the 11 stages in the electoral cycle.

It should be emphasized that small differences in mean scores between states or over time are not significant, given the confidence intervals between low and high estimates and the limited number of experts in several states. At the same time, more weight should be given to interpreting larger contrasts between states rated at the top and bottom of the rankings, like the gap between Vermont (rated 1st), Washington (2nd) and Maine (rated 3rd) versus Florida and Georgia, both at the bottom of the ratings.

Fig 1: The Map of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index (0-100) by US States, 2018

Note:  The map shows the mean for each state in the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index, with imputed values, and the scale ranging from 0-100.  Source:  The Electoral Integrity Project PEI-US 2018  www.electoralintegrityproject.com

Note: The map shows the mean for each state in the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index, with imputed values, and the scale ranging from 0-100. Source: The Electoral Integrity Project PEI-US 2018 www.electoralintegrityproject.com

Fig 2: Summary of changes in types of state integrity, 2016-2018

Note:  The figure shows the change in categories of states in the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index.  Source:  The Electoral Integrity Project PEI-US 2018  www.electoralintegrityproject.com

Note: The figure shows the change in categories of states in the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index. Source: The Electoral Integrity Project PEI-US 2018 www.electoralintegrityproject.com

Fig 3. Changes in the PEI Index and ranks by US States, 2016 and 2018

Note:  Changes in the US State PEI Index and ranks, 2016-2018  Source:  The Electoral Integrity Project PEI-US-2018  www.electoralintegrityproject.com

Note: Changes in the US State PEI Index and ranks, 2016-2018 Source: The Electoral Integrity Project PEI-US-2018 www.electoralintegrityproject.com

Fig 4: The PEI Index by dimensions, US States 2018

PEI-US-2018 States ranked by subdimensions.png

Fig 5: State performance in 2018 by party control.

State performance by party control.png


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