by Jacob Derr & Tony Glosson, Editors
Doug Chapin is the Director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. His Election Academy seeks to provide education and research to help election administrators improve and adapt their performance in the future. He spent ten years at the Pew Charitable Trusts working for voting reform at the national and state level, and to improve voting technology, including internet and mobile applications. He will be moderating panelists at the Seventh Annual Election Law Symposium at William & Mary Law School this Thursday, February 21, 2013. We asked him a few questions in advance of his appearance….
You’ve looked at the issue of election day delays for a while now. What approach do you think state election administrators should take to address the issue?
I think the biggest thing that election officials need to do is get a handle on how many voters they expect on Election Day and how long it will take those voters to cast a ballot. So many of the problems we saw in 2012 were the result of underestimating the number of voters who would turn out – and in a few cases (like Florida) underestimating how long it would take voters to navigate a lengthy ballot. I even heard reports that in some jurisdictions where pollworkers were using e-pollbooks, pollworkers’ unfamiliarity with mouse and keyboard (as opposed to printed greenbar) created delays at the front of the line. Knowing a little more about these factors in advance can reduce the possibility of surprises on Election Day.
Do you think state election administrators could be using the Internet better than they currently are? While Internet voting might be a ways off, can the Internet better serve elections in other ways?
Internet voting is an issue that will generate huge disagreement in the election community … I often joke that everyone agrees that we’ll have Internet voting “someday”, but that consensus evaporates the minute you try to define when “someday” will be. That said, we are already seeing huge strides in the ways in which election officials are using the Internet to help voters with the voting process like online voter registration and polling place locators available via smartphone (even text message). In addition, military and overseas voters can now get unvoted ballots electronically; while this doesn’t include electronic return, it does cut considerably the time it takes for these voters to cast a timely and valid ballot.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, some jurisdictions loosed rules for voting location and even experimented with Internet voting (albeit imperfectly). Do you think these examples have anything to teach election administrators about running elections?
I think the biggest thing we learned from Sandy was the importance of contingency planning for election administration. The affected states did a heroic job making the best of a very bad situation, but probably would have liked to have had a better sense of what to do if the standard election infrastructure was damaged or unavailable. As bad as things were, the country is lucky that Sandy didn’t make landfall closer to Election Day. I know for a fact that election officials across the nation are thinking much harder about contingency planning because of what they saw happen during Sandy.