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This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Not Invited to the Party Primary: Independent Voters and the Problem with Closed Primaries

February 13, 2024

This report investigates the problems with closed primaries and their impact on independent voters, and it is divided into five sections:First, through an analysis of voter registration data, we clearly define the extent of the problem with closed primaries by highlighting the number of registered voters who are unable to participate in primaries. We also show that this problem has accelerated over time.Second, armed with data from a first-of-its-kind poll of registered independent voters who reside in closed primary states ("Excluded Independents"), we define who is impacted by the problem across demographic lines. We also analyze why voters register as independents and share some voters' responses to the question "Why are you an independent?"Third, through an analysis of the polling data, we examine the beliefs of Excluded Independents to illustrate the perspectives that are shut out of the electoral process because of closed primaries. We find evidencethat challenges predominant beliefs that independents are disengaged from politics, we report on their attitudes towards the current primary system, and we share fresh data on who Excluded Independents are inclined to support in the 2024 presidential general election.Fourth, we review the existing literature surrounding the debate about independent voters' tendency to "lean" to one party or the other, and we find data that challenges the conventional wisdom that independents who lean toward a party are really just "weak partisans."To conclude, we offer a menu of policy solutions — already in use in dozens of states — that would allow independents to participate in all elections, while giving all voters more voice and more choice.

Campaigns and Elections

Election Night Hand Counts: Realities and Risks

November 1, 2023

It's been said that elections are a combination of people, processes, and technology. Human oversight of election processes is integral to ensuring that voting technology works correctly and that votes are counted as cast. "Hand to eye" examination of ballots in audits and recounts are quality control checks that carefully and transparently assess that voting technology got the election outcome right—or correct the outcome if it did not—and give voters justified confidence in election outcomes. But that best practice does not translate to humans hand counting millions of votes on election night. This paper examines the risks of full election night hand counts, explains when hand counts should be used, and emphasizes why common-sense best practices that employ voting machines and post-election audits make our election outcomes verifiable and resilient.

Campaigns and Elections

Combating Misinformation Through Electoral Reform

October 24, 2023

In the past several years, various states across the country have experienced delays in reporting their election results. These delays have been especially scrutinized in slow-counting jurisdictions when the window of time between the polls closing and the release of sufficient ballot totals that would enable the media to call the race lags beyond what feels reasonable. As voters eagerly await results, this lag time also provides fertile ground for misinformation to proliferate.Misinformation and conspiracy theories can be extremely damaging to democratic institutions, weakening the public's confidence in and attitudes toward political systems. Unfortunately, correcting misinformation as it arises is often insufficient to stop its spread, as research has shown that corrections do not spread as fast or as far as original information does—even when released by the same source.This paper recommends changes to election practices that could help expedite vote tabulation to minimize the window of time in which misinformation is likely to spread. It also suggests ways that citizens and the media could interact differently with elections to further combat misinformation and improve the legitimacy of American elections.

Campaigns and Elections

Conservatives Should Look More Closely at Systemic Election Reforms

October 3, 2023

Key PointsConservatives should recognize that many Americans are dissatisfied with the current state of governance, elected officials, and the two major parties.There is ample evidence that the present first-past-the-post, partisan primary system contributes to poor governance, unrepresentative candidates, and gratuitous partisanship.The political right should invest more energy and resources in assessing how systemic election reforms can improve the selection of candidates and strengthen the incentives they have to govern well.

Campaigns and Elections

Casting Votes Safely: Examining Internet Voting’s Dangers and Highlighting Safer Alternatives

October 1, 2023

The internet has a valuable role to play in reducing barriers to the ballot box, including helping people register to vote, tracking their ballots, and staying informed about the election process—but casting votes over the internet is fundamentally not safe for our democracy. Internet voting—also often called "electronic ballot return"—means returning a voted ballot over the internet electronically, including via mobile apps, email, fax, or a website portal.Internet voting undermines the fundamental principles of our democracy: private and trustworthy elections that give voters justified confidence that their votes were counted as cast. Internet voting is not private, secure, or verifiable. An election must not just convince the winners that they won, but prove to the losing candidates that they lost. Internet voting's expansion would result in unprovable election results and create grave public distrust in our elections. Our report addresses many concerns for voters and our democracy and offers alternatives that support trustworthy election outcomes. 

Campaigns and Elections

Alaska's Election Model: How the top-four nonpartisan primary system improves participation, competition, and representation

October 1, 2023

Though nicknamed the "Last Frontier," Alaska is now very much the first frontier when it comes to election innovation in the United States. In the coming years, election reforms with the greatest impact on the health of our democracy will be those that improve political incentives: how candidates run for office, and how they govern once elected.Approved by voters in 2020 and used for the first time in 2022, Alaska's new election system pairs a top-four nonpartisan primary with an instant runoff general election. Already, our research finds that Alaska's reform has given voters more voice and power in who represents them and significantly increased electoral competition, tempered political extremism, and delivered a voting system that is viewed as both simple and popular among voters.Importantly, the reform did not advantage one party over the other: a conservative Republican, moderate Republican, and moderate Democrat were elected by the same electorate to statewide offices. Republicans retained legislative majorities, while Alaska's tradition of cross-partisan governing coalitions continued throughout the 2023 legislative session.

Campaigns and Elections

Seismic Shifts: How Economic, Technological, and Political Trends are Challenging Independent Counter-Election-Disinformation Initiatives in the United States

September 21, 2023

This report explores the role of independent election integrity initiatives—those outside of government or technology companies—in protecting elections from digital disinformation and its consequences. It also describes how new obstacles and risks associated with election disinformation monitoring are changing how these initiatives conceptualize their goals and their relationships with tech companies. It is primarily based on interviews with relevant individuals from various initiatives and platform staff familiar with their work. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of their divergent approaches and discusses their challenges and subsequent adaptation. Most of the individuals interviewed for this report declined to be named so that they could speak freely. In those instances, we identify them by their relevant employer (or in some cases, former employer) rather than by their name. Many individuals declined to be interviewed at all, either explicitly or presumably because of the fear of legal or political consequences. This report also draws on research reports, journalistic coverage, and public statements from platforms to corroborate claims.

Campaigns and Elections

24 for ’24: Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics, and Tech for Fair and Legitimate 2024 U.S. Elections

September 13, 2023

Recognizing the need for multifaceted and cross-ideological solutions to the issue of the legitimacy and acceptance of fair election results in the United States, Richard L. Hasen, Professor of Law and Political Science and director of UCLA Law's Safeguarding Democracy Project, convened both a conference and an ad hoc committee made up of 24 diverse, prominent scholars and leaders to tackle these issues from an interdisciplinary perspective.After public meetings and further online deliberations, this Committee makes the following 24 recommendations for immediate change that should be implemented to increase the fairness and help bolster the legitimacy of the 2024 elections. These recommendation are aimed collectively at assuring access to the ballot for all eligible voters, protecting election integrity, and enhancing the public's confidence in the fairness of the election and the accuracy of the results.The recommendations listed below call for specific action from legislators on the federal, state, and local levels; journalists and editors; tech companies; and civic leaders, nonprofit organizations, citizens, and social media influencers. 

Campaigns and Elections

The Good, the Bad and the In-Between: Washington’s Implementation of Top-Two Voting

September 12, 2023

In 2004, Washington state voters approved Initiative 872 (I-872), the "People's Choice Initiative." I-872 restored Washington's then recently overturned blanket primary and designated that the top-two vote-getters in the primary would be advanced to the general election. Proponents of I-872 argued that the "top-two voting" system would increase competition and voter participation. Opponents argued that the new system would reduce options for voters in the general election and would result in single-party general elections.Since then, sixteen years of top-two voting elections have shown mixed results for both opponents and proponents of the system. Overall, top-two voting has provided Washington citizens with more options in primary elections, generating more competition and giving them more say in outcomes. On the other hand, it has had little impact on voter participation and has occasionally resulted in races that left many voters feeling unsatisfied with their choices.Legislators and election scholars in Washington and around the country can take away a key learning from Washington's top-two voting experience: The top-two approach is an improvement to partisan primaries and plurality elections, but it could be improved by having more candidates advance out of the primary and by using an alternative voting system in the general election to ensure a majority winner.

Campaigns and Elections

Towards Better Post-Election Audits: Insights from Election Experts

August 29, 2023

In 2020, baseless claims of election fraud and malfeasance drew sustained national attention to election procedures and post-election audits across the country. Moreover, a number of "sham reviews" proliferated, which seemed specifically intended to damage confidence in the outcome. As we begin the 2024 cycle, we must prepare for the possibility of a repeat scenario in which losing candidates cast doubt on election procedures. Election officials, state legislators, standards-making bodies, and civil society must ensure that post-election audits are widespread and conducted with care, transparency, and integrity. Good communication about election procedures and audits is also key for ensuring that elections are trusted by the public.In October 2022, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) published a report, De-Weaponizing and Standardizing the Post-Election Audit, containing suggestions on how to improve post-election audits. On February 15, 2023, we invited 18 outside experts to participate in a workshop building on the report, discussing the most pressing issues in the post-election audit landscape, and identifying solutions.The body of the resulting report, Towards Better Post-Election Audits: Insights from Election Experts, provides an in-depth summary of the discussion at the workshop, including direct quotes from participants. We hope that the insights gained from this workshop, and the ideas generated, will help policymakers and civil society chart a path forward for a future in which post-election audits are widespread, well-executed, and trusted.

Campaigns and Elections

Mitigating Online Misleading Information and Polarization in Conflict-Sensitive Contexts: Experimental Evidence from Côte d’Ivoire

August 3, 2023

As misinformation and polarization increase, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) faces new challenges in its support for electoral integrity, party development, democratic governance, and citizen participation. Our Global Design, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (G-DMEL) team, in partnership with NDI's Côte d'Ivoire program, aimed to answer the following question: What kinds of democracy interventions - separately or in combination – can impact online misinformation uptake and dissemination among youth, and reduce affective polarizations across partisan divides? With funding from the NED and in collaboration with leading academic researchers from Evidence in Governance And Politics (EGAP), NDI experimentally tested the impacts of four types of intervention hypotheses: one based on capacity building (training on digital literacy) and three designed to mitigate socio-political motivations to consume and disseminate misinformation. The findings revealed that traditional digital literacy interventions alone did not change youth capacity to identify misinformation, nor their behavior in knowingly sharing misinformation. Surprisingly, social identity interventions did have impacts, but in unexpected directions. These critical insights are paving the way for NDI to rethink strategies to combat misinformation in highly polarized environments.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation; Media

California's Top-Two Primary: The Effects on Electoral Politics and Governance

June 8, 2023

In this report, we conduct an in-depth analysis of California's top-two nonpartisan primary election system to better understand if and how eliminating partisan primaries reshapes politics and governance.We evaluate the effects of the top-two system in California based on the criteria established by supporters and opponents of such primary reforms, as well as by political scientists. Specifically, we assess the impact of Top Two on polarization, turnout and meaningful electoral participation, election competitiveness, Californians' assessment of state governance, and party strength. We exhaustively review existing peer-reviewed research and conduct original analysis to understand whether the claims and hopes of reform advocates came true.

Campaigns and Elections