Knowing It’s Right: Limiting the Risk of Certifying Elections

May 22, 2020

Every election we ask ourselves, what motivates voters to participate? Could it be the love of a charismatic candidate? The dislike of a less-than-desirable one? Passion for a specific ballot initiative? Do voters show up to the polls out of habit? The answer is as varied as the voting population, as is the reason voters do not participate.

Research shows that while voters’ confidence in their own vote being counted accurately remains relatively constant, their belief that results at the national level are correct is in decline. As we work through reestablishing trust in our elections following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month long investigation, the threat of interference in our elections by another nation-state remains.

The American public wants to believe that when they vote it means something—we are teaching elections officials about a new way to audit our elections and check for the accuracy every voter deserves. As with most election administration processes, implementation success lies in preparation—and Risk Limiting Audits (RLAs), which some proponents often refer to as the “cheap and easy” method to check the accuracy of the results, are no exception.

Democracy Fund recently launched the Election Validation Project to increase trust in elections through rigorous audits, standards, and testing. Part of this project is the release of Knowing it’s Right—the first Risk-Limiting Audit report which serves as a summary to capture where we currently stand on risk-limiting audits; an overview of what policymakers need to know; and as a guide or workbook on how practitioners can prepare to implement. The materials demonstrate the rigor that a jurisdiction needs to go through in order to conduct a meaningful audit, the decisions that need to be made along the way, and what to contemplate as this relatively young procedure continues to evolve.

The what and the how of an RLA are not well understood by many, which is why we created guidance for elections administrators to save time, money and ensure that the correct candidate won.

The idea is simple, although not many people have heard of a risk-limiting audit. Risk-limiting audit is a post-election audit that takes a random sample of voted ballots and manually examines those ballots for evidence the originally reported outcome is correct. An RLA limits the risk of certifying a contest with the wrong winner.

We are proud to support Jennifer Morrell, a nationally recognized election official with over eight years of experience managing local elections, to lead the Election Validation Project and spearhead the outreach on this guidance. Morrell’s work in Colorado was instrumental in the successful implementation of the first statewide risk-limiting audit and she has since spent time traveling across the country working on post-election audits. This report is the cumulative documentation of her effort.

We believe sound election administration policy and its practical application can ensure the American electorate is well served and that our democracy is strong. We are dedicated to that work and appreciate all who strive for that ideal along with us.


As We Wait for Attorney General Barr to Release the Mueller Report, What Foundations Should Do

April 12, 2019

Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report — and anticipation for the report itself — have captivated the interest of the American people and a divided Congress, with jubilation from the president’s supporters and disappointment from his critics.

But the success of the special counsel’s investigation should not be measured by those whose political interests are best served. Rather, its completion should go down in history as a victory for the rule of law — that is, as long as the full report and supporting documents are released to the public.

Congress and the American people must have the opportunity to understand the truth of what happened to be in a better position both to protect future elections and to restore faith in our democratic norms.

Foundations are in a unique position to pave the way forward by investing in causes that further both of these goals.

Integrity of the Ballot Box

There are two core priorities philanthropy can support to protect the tenets of our democracy.

First, we must protect the integrity of our elections. The health of our democracy requires public trust in our electoral systems. The Mueller investigation — both through its current indictments and what will presumably be laid out in the report — should help us get to the bottom of how a foreign power interfered with the 2016 election.

Thanks to the investigators’ efforts, we will have the product of more than 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, more than 230 orders for communication records, 13 requests of foreign governments, and approximately 500 interviews with witnesses to learn from.

The American public must demand to see the report so we can identify opportunities to bolster our election system. This would allow foundations to invest in work that promotes election modernization, development of data-driven policies, and advancements in new technologies that help reduce barriers to voting. In addition, we need to work with nonprofits seeking to strategically provide secretaries of state and local election boards with the resources to maintain the system’s integrity. Without the partisan distraction of alleged collusion, leaders from both parties can get serious about protecting our democracy from manipulation.

An Independent Justice System

Second, we must protect the rule of law and the independence of our justice system. It is easy to forget that months ago, it was unclear whether the special counsel would be allowed to complete his investigation. We should all be grateful for efforts made over the past two years to protect the independence of the investigation, despite unrelenting pressure from the president and his allies.

Once the report is provided to Congress, it will have its own constitutional responsibility to exercise oversight, thoroughly investigate the underlying evidence, and consider appropriate policies for the future. The attorney general’s conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to establish that the president committed a crime by obstructing justice is not the end of the matter. Only by digging into the facts can the public be sure justice has been served.

New York State’s Inquiry

Foundation leaders also must defend continuing investigations by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere to ensure they are able to complete their work without interference. These investigations, equally representative of the rule of law at work, are looking into deeply important questions related to the integrity of our government — including potential conflicts of interest. They must be allowed to continue unimpeded.

For philanthropy, investing in nonprofit work that protects this oversight is a crucial way to protect our democracy. Remember that Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation convicted five associates of the president’s and indicted 34 people on nearly 200 criminal charges. The special counsel’s job was not to attack or convict Donald Trump. It was to uncover the truth and ensure justice is done. The special counsel has been able to complete his investigation, and by working together to support and galvanize programs and organizations that uphold our constitutional norms, we can still achieve our goal of a strengthened, vibrant democracy.



Not Just Another Election Year: Reflections on Defending Democracy in 2018

December 20, 2018

In July, I published an open letter to tell you about the numerous ways our organization stood up in this time of crisis. Since then, Democracy Fund and our grantees have continued to garner important successes in bolstering the guardrails of our democracy.

Nowhere was this more on display in 2018 than during the midterm election. Millions of Americans from across the political spectrum engaged in the electoral process as volunteers, candidates, and voters for the first time. Record-breaking turnout resulted in a Congress that is more reflective of America than ever before. This surge of enthusiasm for our democracy was inspiring and reenergized my dedication to Democracy Fund’s core mission.

Dozens of Democracy Fund grantees played important roles in supporting this groundswell. I am honored that we helped enable their success. I’d like to take this opportunity to share just a few of their stories.

Ensuring the integrity of our electoral process and systems

Razor-thin margins and recounts in numerous races this November brought significant public scrutiny to election officials and highlighted the importance of well-resourced election administration. This year alone, our grantees’ work resulted in the modernization of nine states’ voter registration systems and pressured at least five states to comply with the National Voter Registration Act.

On the important issue of election security, grantees such as the Defending Digital Democracy Project equipped hundreds of jurisdictions across the nation with best practices and resources to meaningfully respond to cyber threats. I’m particularly proud of the contribution of Democracy Fund Voice staff and grantees in ensuring the congressional appropriation of $380 million for election security that was awarded in grants to all 50 states and multiple territories.

Defending voter access

When voter access was put in jeopardy, our grantees fought to protect the rights of voters in some of the most-watched states in the midterm elections. Demos helped protect the language access rights of Spanish speakers in Florida. The Campaign Legal Center sued to defend the voting rights of Native Americans in North Dakota and played a key role in efforts to combat the controversial measures implemented in Georgia by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Common Cause provided thousands of volunteers to support election protection and strategies to alert the public if voters had problems at the polls. The Texas Civil Rights Project won expanded early voting access for Texas State University students and kept nine polling locations in Harris County open for an extra hour after they opened late on election day.

Engaging and informing voters

Robust and fair elections systems are a crucial starting place for successful elections, but so too is an engaged and informed public. Millions of voters used tools built by Democracy Fund grantees to register to vote, identify their polling locations, and access other important information about the election. Democracy Works’ API powers the voter registration and voter outreach efforts of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, among others – over 3.5 million people received help registering to vote in 2018. Meanwhile, Democracy Fund partnered with Nonprofit Vote and dozens of others to implement the most successful National Voter Registration Day ever, with more than 800,000 Americans registering to vote on September 25th alone.

Throughout the election season, grantees in our Public Square portfolio played an important role in keeping the public informed about election systems, the candidates, and campaigns. Hundreds of local newsrooms supported by Democracy Fund helped prepare and educate voters for the decisions before them. Our North Carolina Local News Lab helped spark an exciting collaboration between Duke University, Politifact, the University of North Carolina, and McClatchy newspapers to publish over a dozen fact-checking articles on local and state races, including a series on the North Carolina constitutional amendments. The Center for Public Integrity undertook a fascinating effort to track the influence of money in races across the country. And ProPublica’s Electionland has quickly become one of the most important journalistic collaborations to track and report on election administration in the country. Their reporting on misinformation and political ads on social media platforms such as Facebook were particularly noteworthy.

In these ways—and so many more—Democracy Fund’s grantees and partners helped shape what may well be a watershed election in our history.

Preparing to govern

With the midterms behind us, Congress is set to receive a significant influx of new members. Many grantees in our Governance program are helping them get off on the right foot through orientations, trainings, and other resources. A record number of women and people of color will hold seats in the 116th Congress, and Democracy Fund has provided additional funding this year to the Women’s Congressional Policy Institute to help these members thrive. The Staff Up Congress initiative, meanwhile, is facilitating the recruitment and placement of members of underrepresented groups for senior congressional staff positions.

With such a large number of first-time legislators set to join the institution, it is all the more important that members of Congress have the resources necessary to manage effective legislative offices. That’s why I’m particularly pleased that so many of the priorities of Democracy Fund Voice and its grantees passed through the FY2019 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. This includes new resources for the Congressional Research Service and GAO, funding for cybersecurity and tech improvements, and the first significant new funding for member office capacity in Congress in a decade.

Holding government accountable

Our government accountability and investigative journalism grantees have consistently had a hand in some of the key political issues of the year, informing the public and applying pressure where ethical and legal breaches among government actors have been suspected.

  • Our grantees filed more than 3,000 FOIA requests and dozens of FOIA lawsuits, including Lawfare’s successful effort to secure the release of more than 100 FBI emails that contradicted the White House narrative that Director James Comey had lost Bureau support before his firing.
  • ProPublica’s heart-wrenching reporting on the family separation crisis played a key role in rallying public opposition to the administration’s policies. And the Project On Government Oversight and OpenTheGovernment uncovered documents showing that DHS officials signed off on policies that would lead to family separation and then told Congress there was no such policy.
  • Protect Democracy Project is looking ahead to a moment of democratic renewal, laying out an extensive list of reforms to strengthen Congress’ role as the first branch and to rein in executive branch abuses.

Meanwhile, when the Attorney General was forced to resign, we helped lead the philanthropic sector in defending the rule of law by rallying 45 signatories to our statement demanding that the Mueller investigation be allowed to reach its conclusion unimpeded.

Elsewhere in our portfolio, grantees have continued the slow and steady work of informing and engaging the public through trustworthy local journalism, building an effective and constructive Congress, and rebuilding a strong civic fabric by reaffirming our commitment to core American values.

Across the nation, I see dedicated Americans standing up for the type of democracy they want and working daily to build it. The determination our sector has shown has given me renewed faith in our democracy’s future and has increased my resolve to face the challenges ahead. In my open letter in July, I noted that our approach would be far more aggressive in combating the unprecedented threats that our democracy faces. In the new year, Democracy Fund looks forward to continuing to invest in efforts to create a more effective Congress, modern and secure elections, and a robust public square.


Key to Trusted Elections: Understanding the Voter Experience

October 18, 2018

Democracy Fund’s healthy democracy framework identifies voting as the cornerstone of our democracy. The elections process ought to be free, fair, accessible and secure; give voters the information that they need to make informed choices; and must “provide voters with confidence in the integrity of election outcomes and assurance that they have a voice in our democracy.”

We know that the public’s trust and confidence in elections provides the basis for a healthy election system and a healthy democracy. However, prior to heightened concerns around elections cybersecurity, we were surprised to find that there are not many people studying this dimension of public opinion. In the spirit of learning and dialogue, we decided to examine data collected from 2008-2016 via the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to better understand the public’s views on our elections process.

In collaboration with Paul Gronke of Reed College, I am excited to share our findings in a new Democracy Fund report, “Understanding the Voter Experience: The Public’s View of Election Administration and Reform.” This report offers insight into the individual-level decision to vote or not, the public’s’ knowledge and application of voter registration requirements, the over all voter experience, and the public’s trust and confidence in U.S. elections.

The Good News

In Understanding the Voter Experience, we find that the public generally perceives that elections are run with integrity, understands most of what is required of them in order to vote, and have a good experience when voting. When compared to other institutions of in trust, election administration ranks well.

Other encouraging findings include that many people realize that they are responsible for registering and updating their registration; most respondents provide good or excellent job performance ratings for their poll workers and their state and local election officials; and majorities of the folks we surveyed are confident that their own votes and votes across the country are counted as intended.

Areas for Improvement

Our report also shows that the public can benefit from ongoing educational efforts—especially in states that have recently implemented modernization reforms or that have recently changed identification requirements. Significant numbers of our respondents were confused or unfamiliar with their state voter identification requirements pre-election, and our data indicate that they learn about these requirements post-election.

We also found a significant number of people did not know whether online voter registration is available in their state. In fact, nearly 50 percent of the respondents did not know whether their respective states offered online voter registration, and over 17 percent answered incorrectly as to whether their state offered it.

Our report also examines the public’s heavily reliance on the internet for basic election information, which is important because we find that a lack of information may keep people from voting, especially down-ballot races. The data shows that approximately 30-40 percent of respondents consistently felt they did not have enough information to vote on key races like state attorney general, secretary of state, and state senator races.

We hope that “Understanding the Voter Experience” will help election officials, lawmakers, advocates, and others better understand attitudes of the American people toward one of their most-cherished rights, and will encourage more probing of public attitudes about our election system. As you read the report, we welcome your questions and feedback. Please do not hesitate to email me at

Press Release

New Study Confirms Majority of Americans Have Confidence in the Integrity and Results of Elections

Democracy Fund
October 18, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Today, Democracy Fund, in collaboration with Reed College Professor Paul Gronke, released a new report on Understanding The Voter Experience: The Public’s View of Election Administration and Reform. It shows that while most Americans approve of the job their election officials are doing and trust the results of the election, confusion about voting processes and lack of information about candidates are the top reasons people decide not to vote. Recognizing the information gap between voters and local and state election officials, Democracy Fund is also proud to announce the relaunch of—a crucial resource for trusted, politics-free news and information about the people and processes that guide our nation’s elections.

“Understanding the experiences that American voters face during an election cycle is key to improving the electoral system and increasing voter turnout,” said Natalie Adona, Senior Research and Learning Associate with Democracy Fund’s Elections Program. “Our data provides insights into the voter journey from beginning to end: individual level decisions to vote or not, general awareness and familiarity with voter registration requirements, and the public’s trust and confidence in U.S. elections.”

Highlights from Understanding the Voter Experience, include:

  • The public ranks election administration well in terms of trust when compared to other institutions—outranking Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Press. In 2016, 95 percent of people gave a good or excellent job performance ratings for their poll workers and nearly 60 percent gave high rankings to their local election officials.
  • 87 percent of respondents were confident that their own ballot was counted as cast in 2016, but only 71 percent were confident in the national vote count.
  • In general, people understand they are responsible for their voter registration, but nearly half of the respondents were confused or unfamiliar with their state voter identification requirements.
  • 30-40 percent of respondents consistently felt they did not have enough information to vote on key races like state attorney general, secretary of state, and state senator.

“Far too many respondents felt that they did not have enough information to vote,” said Adam Ambrogi, Director of Democracy Fund’s Elections Program. “Democracy only works if the American public understands how to vote, has enough information to make informed decisions, is confident in our election process, and trusts the results.”

As part of Democracy Fund’s commitment to fostering a modern, trusted, voter-centric election system, it is also unveiling the new and improved electionline, which continues to be the only place to find state-by-state curation of daily election administration news. In addition to publishing the classic electionline Weekly newsletter, the website will also share original reports and exclusive content from leaders and experts in the field—making the site a must-read for local election officials, civic organizations, and journalists who cover elections.



Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $100 million in support of a healthy democracy, including modern elections, effective governance, and a vibrant public square. To learn more, visit or follow @democracyfund.


Electionline is America’s only nonpartisan, non-advocacy clearinghouse for news and information about the people and processes that guide our nation’s elections and a hub for sharing tools, best practices, and innovative ideas for improving the voting experience. A project of Democracy Fund, electionline aims to support voter-centric elections that are accessible, fair, and secure. To learn more, visit or follow @electionline.


Election Security Preparation for the 2018 Midterms

June 28, 2018

Under the leadership its new chairman Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Ranking Member Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the Senate Rules and Administration Committee hosted a hearing this past week, “Election Security Preparation: A State and Local Perspective.” This is the first hearing since the 2016 election in Senate Rules, the committee with jurisdiction over federal election issues. This hearing was a long-overdue opportunity for state and local election officials and Congress to talk about how they can work together to improve our nation’s election integrity, following the attempts made in 2016 to interfere in the last Presidential election.

In the March 2018 omnibus spending package, states got a boost to help them in these efforts. The omnibus provided $380 million in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds that states can use for election security improvements. Specifically, legislative report language outlined key categories to help guide state spending activity. “Consistent with the requirements of HAVA, states may use this funding to:

  1. Replace voting equipment that only records a voter’s intent electronically with equipment that utilizes a voter-verified paper record;
  2. Implement a post-election audit system that provides a high-level of confidence in the accuracy of the final vote tally;
  3. Upgrade election-related computer systems to address cyber vulnerabilities identified through DHS or similar scans or assessments of existing election systems;
  4. Facilitate cybersecurity training for the state chief election official’s office and local election officials;
  5. Implement established cybersecurity best practices for election systems; and
  6. Fund other activities that will improve the security of elections for federal office.”

These resources are critically important given the evidence noted by the Senate Intelligence Committee and other cybersecurity experts about the foreign attacks on our election infrastructure during the 2016 election. According to the EAC, 66 percent of the funds have been requested as of June 19, and the witnesses testified that the Commission worked very quickly to disburse funds to the states. This is a good start, but there is a need for all states to get in the game. There’s also a good practice to provide greater information about how they will use the funds, and to identify how their actions will create greater security for the 2018 election. For example, Ohio recently outlined the steps the state is taking to build confidence in the system. And several Democracy Fund grantees have resources outlining best practices in cybersecurity for election professionals. The Defending Digital Democracy Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has its State and Local Election Cybersecurity Playbook and “tabletop exercise” workshops, and the Center for Data and Technology is partnering with the Center for Technology and Civic Life to deliver online cybersecurity trainings for election officials this July.

Beyond 2018, the hearing was a reminder that election officials are constantly planning and looking ahead. As all the witnesses testified, the complexity of threats to our election infrastructure requires ongoing support from the federal government to aid the states—a challenge that Congress should take seriously if they want voters to have confidence and trust in our election system.


Increasing Trust in Elections: Democracy Fund’s Election Validation Project

May 29, 2018

What motivates voters to participate? The love of a charismatic candidate? The disgust of a less-than desirable one? Passion for a specific ballot initiative? Habit? The answer is as varied as the voting population, as is the reason that voters do not participate. Research shows that while voters’ confidence in their own vote being counted accurately remains relatively constant, their belief that results at the national level are correct is in decline. The threat of interference in our elections by another nation-state has heightened this sentiment.

At Democracy Fund, we believe that our election system can remain both accessible and secure. We invest in organizations working to bolster public confidence in our elections through modern, voter-centric election administration and registration, as well as other projects that are helping to identify and elevate best practices and protocols to improve the American voting experience. With these goals in mind, Democracy Fund is launching the Election Validation Project which aims to increase trust in elections through rigorous audits, standards, and testing.

Jennifer Morrell, a nationally recognized election official with over eight years of experience managing local elections, has joined Democracy Fund as a consultant to lead this project. Jennifer’s work in Colorado was instrumental in the successful implementation of the first statewide risk-limiting audit and she has been an outspoken advocate of implementing election audit standards beyond just post-election audits and has a vision of creating uniform audit and testing standards for all critical components of the voting system.

According to Jennifer, “Many states do a tremendous job testing voting equipment and performing post-election audits, but the scope and method vary. Improving trust in elections requires a uniform set of audit standards that go beyond auditing ballot tabulation equipment.”

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) called for the review of testing and auditing being done by the states in their 2014 report as well as the need to replace aging voting equipment—another reason why testing and auditing is so critical. Jennifer has been a proponent of testing and audit standards as the next iteration of guidelines to boost confidence and trust in our elections—and the election administration profession. In her experience as an election official, PCEA served as the foundation for collaboration amongst the profession and transformed it into a field of public service.

As states purchase new voting equipment and implement improved audit requirements, our hope is that we can provide information and guidelines about risk-limiting audits tailored to election administrators as well as policy makers and the voting public through our work. Jennifer’s work will include:

  • Creating a collaborative of election officials and subject matter experts to identify best practices for pre- and post- election audits, standards, and testing.
  • Completing an assessment of the current state of post-election audits and outlining a path towards risk-limiting audits.
  • Meeting with election officials to illustrate the pros and cons of different types of audits and providing a plain language explanation of what a risk-limiting audit is and how it works.
  • Most importantly, Jennifer will be working directly with a handful of states that can benefit from observation and informing their auditing and testing policies.

This new project comes at a critical time in election administration, and Jennifer understands what needs to be done to be successful, “This is a complex project that will take some time and some trial and error before it is successful. But starting the discussion is the first step. I am optimistic that election professionals at all levels will be willing to collaborate and lend their ideas and expertise to this endeavor. The table for this discussion needs to be large. We need researchers, we need technologists, we need policy experts and statisticians, but most importantly we need election officials who understand the complexity of running a successful election.”

Democracy Fund is thrilled to engage with Jennifer on this project and to be able to offer additional tools and guidance for election officials to use. We are confident that the collaboration will serve to inform the field and make certain that our elections continue to demonstrate the validity and integrity of the Great American Experiment.

If you are interested in working with Jennifer, she is available to work with states and present at association meetings on these topics. For more information, reach out to


Democracy Fund Statement on Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity

Democracy Fund
January 4, 2018

​Democracy Fund Senior Advisor Tammy Patrick issued the following statement in response to the dissolution of the Pence-Kobach Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity:

“From nearly the moment it was created, the Commission was the source of bipartisan concern. Its unprecedented demands for voter information were rebuffed by Secretaries of State and other election administration officials from both parties in dozens of states across the country. These officials deserve credit for standing up for the privacy of voters in their states in the face of the Commission’s dramatic overreach and minimal transparency.

“Our democracy depends on citizens voting and on every ballot being counted accurately. Voters should know that states are working hard to ensure we have a secure election system. But we must remain vigilant in keeping it that way.

“We hope that any future presidential commissions in this area return to the successful, bipartisan model employed by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and similar past efforts. These efforts were guided by research and the facts, not personal agendas.”


Democracy Fund Senior Adviser Tammy Patrick is available for further comment on the dissolution of the Pence-Kobach Commission. Please contact Josh Dorner at to schedule.


Competent Poll Workers Bolstered Voters’ Confidence in 2016

Jack Santucci
November 1, 2017

What makes Americans trust the electoral process? How can Democracy Fund work to build trust? We spend a lot of time thinking about these issues, since trust in elections and institutions more broadly are essential to healthy democracy. In order to inform our work on trust and election administration, we partnered with Reed College and the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study.*

Our survey of 1,000 Americans turned up two important results in the ‘trust’ framework. First, confidence in vote-counting depends in part on who wins or loses. At the same time, competent poll workers may help bolster voters’ trust in elections.

One way to measure trust in elections is to ask respondents about “voter confidence” – a measure of whether people feel confident that their own ballots were (or will be) counted as intended. (You can read about other measures here.) In order to help us find correlates of change, we asked about voter confidence both pre- and post-election.

Winner’s and loser’s effects

The table below reveals clear evidence of what political scientists call the winner’s effect. As far as we know, this is a psychological boost from seeing a preferred candidate win. Going into the election, only 65.9 percent of Trump supporters were “very” or “somewhat confident” that their votes would be counted as intended. Post-election, that changed to 93.2 percent — an increase of 27 points.

Other studies point to a loser’s effect. We did not find much of one in 2016. 86.3 percent of Clinton voters reported being “very” or “somewhat confident” after the election, a decline of only four points.

Graph: Candidate Success May Influence Voter Confidence

The importance of competent poll workers

We also found that people who rated their poll workers highly tended to express higher confidence. For example, 62 percent of respondents rated their poll workers as “excellent,” and 63.4 percent of those people were “very confident” in the counting of their votes.

Going a step further, we used logistic regression to test the relationship between the polling-place experience and change in one’s voter confidence. This analysis also accounted for age, race, gender, education, income, and vote choice.

On average, respondents who said their poll workers did an “excellent job” were less likely to report lower confidence post-election than those who said “poor job” – 4.5 times less likely among Trump voters and 2.5 times less likely for Clinton voters.

What made people rate poll workers highly? One factor stood out in our data: a perception that poll workers “knew the proper procedures.” 60.7 percent of respondents who reported that perception also said they were “very confident” that their votes had been counted as intended. This relationship held in a logistic regression controlling for age, race, gender, education, income, vote choice, and a raft of other potential reasons for rating poll workers highly (e.g., politeness, tending to voters waiting in line, et cetera).

Given the prevalence in 2016 of rhetoric about “hacking” and “rigging” —as well as other, more specific worries across partisan and racial groups—we were pleased to find that competent poll workers likely boost trust.

Based on analysis captured in our Elections & Public Trust systems map, Democracy Fund supports several organizations working on ways to raise the quality of election administration and improve the voter experience at polling places. The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, for example, offers a set of tools that election officials can use to reduce voter wait times and efficiently allocate polling-place resources. Other good examples come from the Center for Civic Design, which provides election officials with field guides that, among other things, include instructions on providing clear materials for poll worker training and making in-person voting a pleasant experience.

We hope these data and the good work being done by these and other grantees spark a larger conversation about the importance of recruiting and training poll workers. Americans rely on poll workers to understand and help voters navigate election processes. To further promote trust in elections, election officials and advocates can and should continue to support poll workers’ success.

This is the second in a series of blog posts that showcase our findings from the CCES, and we look forward to sharing more in the coming months. This post was first published in November 2017, and was updated in February 2018.


* YouGov administers the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), which includes Common Content and invites participation from up to 50 academic teams. The Reed/Democracy Fund pre-election survey was administered to 1,000 respondents, and our post-election data includes answers from 845 respondents. More information about the CCES and its methodology is available at the Harvard Dataverse, found at:

Paul Gronke is the Principal Investigator of the Reed College/Democracy Fund team module. Natalie Adona is the Research Associate for the Democracy Fund’s Elections Program and manages the roll-out of these findings, with support from Jack Santucci, the Elections Research Fellow. Please direct any questions about these survey findings to


Key to Healthy Democracy: Modern, Secure Elections

September 28, 2017

Democracy Fund is proud to announce a new grant to the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). With demonstrated expertise in data privacy and a deep understanding of the unique challenges of election administration, CDT is positioned to be critical bridge builder to help experts and policymakers better communicate, collaborate, and respond to threats to our election system.

Before I describe CDT’s voter registration and campaign data cybersecurity project, I’d like to offer a small window into our thinking about the importance of this line of work and how it supports Democracy Fund’s strategic priorities.

Voter Registration & the Increasing Challenges for Data Security

Increasing access to the Internet, the growing civic tech community, and improved technologies have paved a path for states to modernize voter registration systems. These modernization policies are appealing to many legislators and election experts who view them as a step toward cost-efficiency and an improved voter experience. For the last 15 years, states have been modernizing voter registration systems by offering online voter registration to citizens, facilitating collaboration between election officials and government offices covered under the National Voter Registration Act, and joining state-driven efforts like ERIC to keep voter rolls clean and identify eligible voters. As our systems map shows, these changes to registration systems help make voter lists more accurate, which leads to better election planning, and fewer problems experienced or perceived by voters on Election Day.

From an administrative perspective, modernizing voter registration improves the voter experience by allowing the voter to type in his or her own information into a database and streamlines the transfer of registration data between government agencies and elections departments. Registration data also helps political campaigns better understand the electorate and strategically reach out to potential voters. As these modernization policies are implemented in the states, election officials and other managers of election data have the enormous responsibility of maintaining these digital systems and protecting them from cyber-attacks—all while operating on limited budgets, preserving voting rights, and protecting individual privacy.

Election Integrity, Trust, and the 2016 Election

The tone and tenor of the 2016 presidential campaign raised our concerns about public trust in elections. While it is not unusual for the public to be concerned about possible voting fraud, the allegations from both presidential candidates that the election system was “rigged” or “hacked” in favor of a particular candidate or outcome felt atypical and worrisome. Irresponsible campaign rhetoric may have created (or reinforced pre-existing) misconceptions about the way elections are run. After the election was over and as fears about foreign interference in our elections were mounting, matters were further complicated by the NSA’s apparent documented evidence that the Russian government attempted to infiltrate voter registration systems in several states.

Calling into question the legitimacy of the election outcome without evidence of actual wrongdoing is harmful to the public’s faith in government and undermines our democracy. To reiterate: public concerns about election integrity are not unique to this past election cycle. However, public misconceptions about the way elections work and the real threats of foreign interference make the cybersecurity risks faced by campaigns and election officials even more significant. We must work toward sustainable solutions that give election officials and others the tools needed to protect the voices and votes of the American electorate.

Though difficult, it is not impossible to allay the public’s concerns. The increasing use of technology in election management makes the system more complex than ever before. It requires listeners to understand very technical administrative processes and makes it difficult for the news media to report about. However, election officials play a key role in shaping the public’s understanding of election process, and voters are very likely to listen. For these reasons, it is vital for stakeholders to balance the need to be responsive to public concerns with the needs of under-resourced election departments that could benefit from doable, sustainable best practice recommendations from the cybersecurity and civic tech communities.

Why We Invested

At Democracy Fund, we believe that every eligible American should have an equal opportunity to vote in elections that are free, fair, accessible, and secure. A healthy democracy requires election administrators and other government officials provide voters with confidence in the integrity of election outcomes and assurance that they have a voice in our democracy. Data-driven policies and new technologies can help reduce barriers to voting and improve the efficiency and security of our election system.

Based on analysis captured in our Election Administration & Voting System map, Democracy Fund invests in organizations and projects that are focused on expanding modern and secure voter registration systems; supporting voter-centric practices and tools in election administration to improve the voter experience; and fostering the public’s trust in elections by supporting a system that’s worthy of their trust.

We invested in the Center for Democracy and Technology because technology experts and election professionals need a reliable and trusted cybersecurity resource. With our support, CDT will:

  • Conduct a 2-year research effort to identify opportunities and challenges with cybersecurity in state election offices and national political campaigns;
  • Generate a set of best practices for election officials and the public; and
  • Distribute “campaign data hygiene” recommendations for all political parties.
  • Convene experts and stakeholders to learn from each other and co-create solutions to election security challenges.

You can learn more about these efforts in CDT’s press release announcing our grant and the project.

Political professionals should be able to keep discussions about campaign strategy internal; election officials should have the tools necessary to combat any type of outside interference; and voters should feel confident that our elections result in legitimate outcomes. We believe Joe Lorenzo Hall and the CDT team will fortify the field with research that deepens our shared understanding, create opportunities for learning and collaboration, and equip election officials and the managers of voter data with the solutions they need to protect voters and encourage participation in future elections.