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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Independent State Legislature Theory Undermines Elections Principles

October 31, 2022

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case with the potential to upend both election administration and the basic principles of how American democracy works. Its ruling will be handed down less than a year before primaries begin in the 2024 election, possibly creating a massive disruption to voting just before a contentious contest.The case, Moore v. Harper, involves state legislative power over congressional redistricting. The petitioners bringing the case posit that Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution,1 commonly referred to as the Elections Clause, endows state legislatures with exclusive power to decide how federal elections are administered within their states. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of this theory, the laws state legislatures pass to regulate federal elections would become immune from the normal checks and balances of state constitutions and state judicial review that apply to all other state lawmaking activities. Legislatures could enact laws inconsistent with their state constitutions, effectively overriding the source of their own legislative power.The novel concept is named the independent state legislature theory (ISL). We believe that ISL—if endorsed by the Supreme Court in maximal form—could not be limited to state legislative control over redistricting. ISL would necessarily extend to all aspects of state regulation of federal elections under the Elections Clause.In the most extreme possibility, local election administrators could be forced to run simultaneous elections—one for federal contests and one for state contests—on different ballots and with different rules. Voter confusion and anger in 2024 and beyond would be certain.This brief focuses on three principles that are essential for U.S. election administration and how the implementation of ISL would upend them:Principle 1: State legislatures cannot move quickly enough to establish statutes, regulations, or guidance for elections in the heat of election cycles when legislatures are out of session.Principle 2: State constitutions, voter-enacted initiatives, and state courts—in addition to state legislatures—have legitimate roles in shaping voting and the administration of elections.Principle 3: The voting experience is smoother and election administration is more efficient when each state has uniform rules and practices for state and federal elections.

Campaigns and Elections

Fortifying Election Security Through Poll Worker Policy

October 17, 2022

The smooth functioning of elections relies on hundreds of thousands of part-time workers across the United States to support the voting and counting process. Poll workers and other temporary election workers support all aspects of the voting process. They are responsible for setting up voting equipment, checking in voters, and assisting in the counting of ballots. To ensure the smooth functioning of an election, workers must conduct their job with integrity and discipline. Their role, and the public's trust in their role, is a cornerstone of the democratic process.Concerns are mounting that temporary election workers recruited and trained by organizations with nefarious intent may undermine election security and public trust. In a statement released in early October 2022, the Bipartisan Policy Center's Task Force on Elections condemned "any effort designed with the intent of using temporary election workers to undermine the credibility of the election ecosystem."The COVID-19 pandemic made recruitment of election workers more difficult and highlighted the importance of temporary election workers. Since then, there have been several isolated incidents in which temporary election workers attempted to undermine election administration in pursuit of partisan goals. Before Michigan's August primary, some poll workers were instructed to unplug voting equipment in the name of exposing fraud. On September 29, 2022 a Michigan poll worker was charged with falsifying records and tampering with voting equipment during the primary.To restore and maintain trust in the election system, the public must have faith that poll workers will uphold their duties and defend the election infrastructure that allows U.S. democracy to function. This explainer surveys the state of temporary election-worker policies across all 50 states, highlighting both the litany of protections in place and the gaps that remain.

A Brief History of Tech and Elections: A 26-Year Journey

September 28, 2022

The first political campaigns to utilize the internet were President Bill Clinton's and Republican nominee Bob Dole's in 1996. In the 26 years since, technology has had a huge impact on elections around the world – for better and for worse.This report analyzes the public announcements made by technology companies over the past 26 years. We chronologically catalog which companies were founded during that timeframe and their public messaging about their election roles. We also document how platforms transitioned from touting their importance to candidates' voter outreach to the deplatforming of a sitting president of the United States for violating their community standards.This report is not a comprehensive examination at how campaigns used technology over the years; many online tools such as email, websites, fundraising platforms, and texting are not covered. We also do not go deep into the effects of bloggers or the mainstream media on the political process. Instead, the report offers a snapshot of campaigns from the tech companies' point of view.

How Tech and Election Officials can Protect Elections Online

August 24, 2022

Tech companies can be a force for good around elections. Their scale allows them to reach hundreds of millions of Americans, and their agility and resources enable them to adapt to emerging situations in real-time. When working to their full potential, tech companies can connect Americans to their local governments, make the complex and varied processes around voting comprehensible and transparent, and help restore Americans' faith in elections. To achieve all this, tech companies should collaborate with election officials to communicate official information that voters need and to mitigate the harms, such as false information and harassment, that can occur on their respective platforms.

Campaigns and Elections

Deterring Threats to Election Workers: Recommendations for the DOJ task force

July 20, 2022

False claims of a stolen election in 2020 shook U.S. democracy to its foundation, seeding ideas and establishing behavior that will reverberate in elections for years to come. The unprecedented number of false claims alleging election fraud in 2020 ignited a barrage of threats against election workers in what had traditionally been a very low threat environment.The right to vote cannot be protected unless election officials are permitted to do their jobs free from improper partisan influence, harassment, and abuse. If perpetrators of threats face no consequences for their actions, many of the workers who safeguarded the most secure U.S. election ever, according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), may choose not to work in future elections, risking election integrity.To help protect election workers from threats—and the foreseeable consequences of such threats on the integrity of future U.S. elections—the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) established an Election Threats Task Force last year that included members from the Criminal Division, the Civil Rights Division, the National Security Division, and the FBI. The Task Force has been notified of hundreds of threats, but progress on investigations and prosecutions has been too slow.Threats against election officials and the January 6th insurrection embody dire threats to our democracy, and both deserve the full attention of the DOJ.

Campaigns and Elections

Preparing for Ballot Paper Shortages in 2022 and 2024

June 6, 2022

The U.S.-China trade war, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Russia-Ukraine war have spurred upheaval and uncertainty in an increasingly interconnected global market. Product shortages and soaring prices are fixtures in national news headlines; American voters rate the economy as their top concern for the 2022 midterm elections. Supply chains won't only be on the ballot this November, they'll also shape how and when Americans get their ballots to begin with.Paper is foundational to American election administration. Yes, the paper needed for our beloved "I Voted" stickers—but also the paper that is used to create ballots, ballot envelopes, voter registration forms, and other essential elections collateral. Voter-verified paper ballots, the gold standard of secure elections, typically require high-quality paper types. Ballot materials demand specialized production, intentional delivery, and secure storage.Long-term trends, exacerbated by recent market factors, have put the supply of paper for the midterm elections at risk. Paper orders that once took days or weeks are now taking months. Costs have increased by 40% or more.This report by the Bipartisan Policy Center Task Force on Elections outlines three challenges for election administration created by the global paper shortage: supply, timing, and cost. Within each category, the task force offers actionable recommendations for election officials and policymakers on how to administer secure elections amid supply chain disruptions both in 2022 and future elections.

Campaigns and Elections

Reimagining Federal Election Funding

April 19, 2022

The smooth execution of elections is a cornerstone of our democracy, yet elections in the United States are chronically—and, in some cases, hazardously—underfunded. The majority of existing funding comes from state and local sources, with only intermittent, discretionary federal appropriations.Inadequate funding leads to antiquated technology and equipment, understaffed election offices, and overworked officials. The 2020 election exposed this reality when election officials had to bootstrap a contentious election amid a pandemic. Private funders stepped in to fund aspects of the voting process that should be resourced by the government.Recent federal appropriations for election security in the fiscal year 2018, FY2020, FY2022, and through the CARES Act in 2020 have incentivized states to make investments in their elections processes; however, relying on one-off discretionary "money drops" of varying amounts is an inefficient and inadequate way to provide funding when election officials need consistency and predictability. Foreign cybersecurity threats in the 2016 election and unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 election have resulted in renewed public attention to the intricacies of the U.S. election system. The American public demands election security and accessibility. This cannot happen without proper funding. Regular, continuous federal funding for elections would allow state and local governments to budget for the short, medium, and long term.With so many competing priorities for the annual budgeting process, creating a reliable federal funding source for elections requires a separate, dedicated approach. Fortunately, the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) provides an existing mechanism to do just that.

Campaigns and Elections

The Dangers of Partisan Incentives for Election Officials

April 6, 2022

Election administrators are expected to perform their duties in a nonpartisan manner, even when the elections they administer lead to outcomes they do not personally endorse. Many election officials are elected in partisan elections or selected by members of political parties. This party affiliation means that these individuals experience motivation or encouragement derived from their party, a dynamic that we will refer to as reactions to partisan incentives.The growing susceptibility to partisan incentives in election offices undermines the expectation that elections will result in legitimate winners. While, in the past, the individuals administering the elections process operated with relative obscurity, party leaders have targeted them and their offices in the hopes of controlling the voting process. This amplified attention may incentivize extreme partisans to attempt to subvert, undermine, or overturn an election. Acting with political self-interest, partisan officials could use their power to undermine legitimate and fair elections and overturn the will of the people.The threat is no longer theoretical. If Americans intend to maintain a democratic system of government, we must reimagine election administration to reduce or remove partisan incentives and strengthen the firewall between politics and the administration of the voting process.

Balancing Security, Access, and Privacy in Electronic Ballot Transmission

March 28, 2022

Trade-offs are inherent to election administration. Election officials and policymakers must regularly make decisions that restrict or expand voter access, detract or enhance election security, and reduce or enshrine voter privacy. These decisions ought to be simple: policymakers should prioritize expanding privacy, security, and access over restricting it.The electronic transmission of ballots is a direct embodiment of this conflict. Election officials and cybersecurity experts agree that electronic ballot return yields vulnerabilities that cannot be mitigated while preserving ballot privacy. Despite the vulnerabilities, electronic ballot transmission is crucial in ensuring that citizens unable to vote through traditional voting methods (such as mail or in-person voting) can still cast a ballot. Electronic ballot return is already being utilized to some extent in at least 31 states, particularly for military and overseas voters. Despite its fairly extensive adoption, there remains almost no real conversation among election experts about how to do it well and what policy options facilitate those practices.This paper strives to provide state lawmakers and election officials with thoughtful and proactive guidance on how to improve the administration of electronic ballot transmission. Rather than focus on the expansion or removal of electronic ballot transmission options, it outlines best practices that are informed by the learned experiences of election administrators, cybersecurity experts, and accessibility advocates.

Campaigns and Elections

Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform

January 20, 2022

Stark partisan dividing lines in Congress currently distract from potential areas of common ground in fostering an election system that puts voters first by being fair, accessible, secure, and transparent. These crucial topics include voter registration, voter identification, options to vote before Election Day, clean and accurate voter rolls, and audits.This report outlines a realistic framework for bipartisan election legislation. If implemented, this framework would massively improve election administration and Americans' voting experience.Federal election legislation, while rare, has a long track record of being bipartisan. For as much attention as members of Congress and the public have paid to how Americans vote, the most recent comprehensive elections bill passed in October 2002. But the urgent need for shoring election infrastructure becomes more obvious with each election.This report authored by a working group of five nonprofit think tanks elevates the election and voting reforms that have gotten lost in the highly partisan federal debate about elections. The working group comprises individuals from five nonprofit think tanks from across the political spectrum: Bipartisan Policy Center, American Enterprise Institute, Issue One, R Street Institute, and Unite America. The data used in this report is sourced from Voting Rights Lab. We came together to publish this report to ensure that important concepts—such as accessible voter registration and accurate voter rolls—are understood to be nonpartisan proposals that will improve elections and not benefit one party more than another.

Campaigns and Elections

Policy to Advance Good Faith Election Observation

January 10, 2022

This report outlines policy best practices for election observers and challengers. The set of recommendations is unanimously endorsed by the Bipartisan Policy Center Task Force on Elections, a diverse group of state and local election officials from across the country. Election officials have the best perspective for how election policy works when put into practice. To secure the integrity of the 2022 and 2024 elections, we need look no further than the dedicated professionals long committed to our democracy.The recommendations made in this report stand to ensure accountability and transparency in the administration of elections. For maximum effectiveness, the recommendations should be considered as a unified set. Election administration is a complex ecosystem: Changes to one policy have upstream and downstream impacts for countless other parts of the process. This set of recommendations anticipates those impacts and works cohesively to address them.

Campaigns and Elections

Bipartisan Principles for Election Audits

November 8, 2021

This report aims to outline what a secure, precise, trustworthy audit of an election should look like in every state. Recommendations in the report include that audits should take place before the results are certified, that election officials must maintain custody of the ballots during audits, and that audits should be open to the public for observation. Extralegal investigations in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin do not meet most of the unanimously endorsed recommendations put forward in the report.

Campaigns and Elections