DF-LEO: Understanding Elections through Local Election Officials

April 24, 2018

Democracy Fund, in partnership with Reed College, is excited to announce a new survey of local election officials (LEOs) on issues relevant to election administration, integrity, and reform. Beginning the week of May 7, 2018, participants will be chosen randomly and will receive an email invitation to complete the survey. Below, we explain our goals for the DF-LEO survey, provide a sneak peek into its content, and explain why we think it will be a valuable resource to local and state election officials, policy experts, advocates, and others interested in American democracy.

We have two main motivations for the survey. First, we want to better understand LEO’s views about the roles, responsibilities, and challenges of their work. By tapping into their experience and deep knowledge of election administration, we hope to uncover new ideas to improve the capacity and quality of elections, and address LEOs’ most urgent needs.

Second, we want to amplify the voices of LEOs in national, regional, and state conversations about election administration, integrity, and reform. Far too often, these conversations don’t consider the “street view” realities of election administration. The insights of LEOs from across the country are vital and should be considered in the national dialogue about improving and securing our elections.

We’ve purposely kept the DF-LEO survey brief (only 10 minutes long) and easy to complete. The survey is conducted using Qualtrics, a state of the art, secure platform for survey administration. The survey covers several topics that include:

  • Changes in election administration over time, and whether these changes have made the elections process easier or more difficult for local election officials and voters;
  • The role of technology and whether the integration of tech improves elections overall;
  • The impact of voter registration modernization policies; and
  • The availability of financial, human, and other resources needed to make elections run smoothly.

DF-LEO was inspired by previous efforts to better understand the views and needs of the LEO community. Over ten years ago, the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office surveyed LEOs about their perspectives on the implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), among other things. Most readers know HAVA’s requirements 1) to designate a state official responsible for the creation and maintenance of a statewide voter registration database; and 2) to replace old voting equipment—specifically punch card ballots—with newer forms of voting technology, had a long-lasting impact on the conduct of elections at the local level. The CRS and GAO surveys helped us understand how local election officials were adapting to the new law.

We also relied on the survey work that MIT Professor Charles Stewart shepherded for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) in 2013. The PCEA was prompted by President Obama’s call to promote the efficient administration of U.S. elections. The PCEA’s mission was to make public new recommendations for improving our elections—which it did in a 2014 report. The PCEA sought to include LEO input in crafting their report and recommendations, and we continue in the same spirit of inclusion.

Democracy Fund is committed to supporting election officials through grant making, research, and educational activities—especially in the lead up to an election where the integrity of our election system remains under close scrutiny. The best way to meet that commitment is to listen to their opinions, perspectives, concerns, and needs. DF-LEO is an important part of this effort.

In constructing the survey, we’ve consulted experts including local election officials, state election directors, and scholars who are experienced in survey research. These reviewers have provided us with constructive feedback on the survey questionnaire and are committed to working with us on interpreting and reporting the results.

We hope that you are as excited as we are to see the results of the survey. All individual responses to the survey will remain confidential, but broad findings from the DF-LEO will be published this summer. We look forward to sharing the results with policy experts, researchers, and advocates so they will better understand the perspectives of election officials and can collaborate alongside them to ensure a modern, secure, and trustworthy election system for the American people.

For those with questions and comments about DF-LEO, please feel free to reach out to:

Senior Research and Learning Associate, Elections Program at Democracy Fund

Professor of Political Science, Reed College
Director, Early Voting Information Center