INDIANAPOLIS—As the 2018 midterm elections near, there is an increasing focus on how difficult it is for some people to actually cast a vote in certain states.
For example, voters in North Dakota, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, and New Hampshire, among others, are facing restrictive voter ID laws and purges of voter names from the rolls. In Georgia, allegations of voter suppression against black voters have reached a boiling point. According to a recent report from the Associated Press, about 53,000 voter registration applications are in limbo because information on applications doesn’t exactly match up with names on drivers licenses or Social Security cards.
These challenges to electoral integrity have an impact on citizen confidence in elections, according to new research from Butler University Assistant Professor of Political Science Greg Shufeldt. His research found that the higher a state ranks when it comes to electoral integrity, or how states run elections, the more likely individuals are to feel like their vote is being counted fairly.
Essentially, those states that ranked higher in electoral integrity had citizens who felt more confident in the democratic system, according to Shufeldt’s research.
“Citizens that live in states with lower electoral integrity are going to be less likely to have confidence in the election process and are less likely to think that their vote is counted fairly and that has consequences,” says Shufeldt, who studies political parties, political inequality, and American politics. “If you don’t think your vote is counted fairly, are you going to keep voting? Probably not.”
Shufeldt’s research, published with Patrick Flavin from Baylor University in State Politics & Policy Quarterly, looked at two different measures of electoral integrity (one led by researchers at MIT and one led by researchers at Harvard). They tested which components of each electoral integrity measurement had a relationship with voter confidence through statistical analyses.
The aspects that impacted citizens’ confidence in the electoral system the most? Personal experience. Examples include problems with the voter registration process, polling site accessibility, availability of ballots, simplicity of the voting process, voter ID laws, violent threats against voters, and simply the presence of qualified candidates on the ballot.
“Broadly, what citizens directly experience impacts their perceptions about whether or not their vote is being counted fairly the most,” Shufeldt says. “The things that a voter would experience going to the polling place are the types of things that are much more likely to have an impact on their confidence, as opposed to the things that happen in a government office that they don’t see.”
All of this matters, Shufeldt says, because if a person doesn’t feel like the process in their state is legitimate, and therefore, that their vote is going to be counted fairly, then there’s a good chance they will stay home on election day, he says.
“This impacts voter turnout,” he says. “My research showed that there is a direct correlation between having confidence in the electoral integrity of your state, and whether or not your vote is being counted fairly. In turn, where you live can determine your desire to show up and your confidence in the system. That is hugely problematic for our democratic system. Where you live is determining the experience you have at the polls.”
This isn’t all just some accident, says Shufeldt.
States chose their election laws and, he says, states are choosing to go in very different directions in terms of how they conduct their elections. So, who controls state government matters a whole lot for the quality of democracy in one’s state, he says.
According to past research from Shufeldt, Republican-controlled states are increasingly pursuing measures that are damaging electoral integrity, whereas majority Democrat-controlled states are more likely to pursue policies that would lead to higher electoral integrity rankings.
“Because states are increasingly under one party control, some states are able to implement tougher voter ID laws, purging their voter rolls, and are adding additional restrictions or checks to the election process, while other states are choosing to go in a different direction and pursue reforms like making voter registration automatic,” he says. “If you assume that elections play a key and central role in a democratic government, states are choosing wildly different ways to conduct those elections.”
Director of Strategic Communications