Improving our elections will take honest conversations about data

Improving our elections will take honest conversations about data
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Election administration in our country is undergoing a renaissance. The most recent high profile area of change is security, and election officials are on the frontlines of defending the bedrock of American democracy from malicious actors both foreign and domestic. However, security is just one piece of a staggering number of proficiencies election officials are tasked with in order to successfully administer an election. From voter registration to street file maintenance, to assisting overseas voters and auditing, each of the core elements of the role of election officials are critical to ensuring success in all areas of election administration today.

These discussions usually only become part of the public discourse when something goes wrong. Think long waits at polling places, malfunctioning voting equipment, ballot design flaws, misaligned voters, or procedural missteps spotlighted during recounts. Reversing these trends must begin with proactive and honest conversations about solutions driven by data.

Such conversations can be informed by the 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey, the most comprehensive national data source about election administration in the United States, which will be released this week. It is difficult to overstate the impact of this biennial survey. For the past 15 years, the survey and its subsequent detailed report has collected jurisdiction level data on election administration from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Guam. The data and analysis in the report play a vital role in identifying trends, anticipating and responding to voter needs, and investing the resources to improve election administration and the voter experience.

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The data from the survey allows us to see the broad picture, such as how voter registration and turnout has fluctuated between both presidential and midterm election years, all the way down to the types of election equipment used. However, the data is only as valuable as it is actionable, which is why the Election Assistance Commission, the administer of the survey, will this year be hosting its public Election Data Summit in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee Hearing Room in the Russell Senate Office Building to coincide with the release of the report this week.

It is our hope this will give election officials, election researchers, federal partners, military voting officers, information technology consultants, and other stakeholders the opportunity to discuss the report and how it can be used to prepare for the 2020 presidential election. Data from the survey and other sources will be used to inform important conversations about innovative approaches to voter registration, election security resources available to jurisdictions, and how election officials can use data to reach American citizens voting abroad. Panelists will also discuss how statewide voter registration databases and election management systems are being modernized, and options for improved use of data within those systems.

Over the coming months, the Election Assistance Commission will have additional resources for election stakeholders based on the survey data, including state fact sheets and an updated data interactive, which allows users to quickly display data for any of the thousands of local jurisdictions that comprise the data, and compare those jurisdictions side by side with those other jurisdictions that have a similar number of registered voters.

As Election Assistance Commission members, we will advocate for what the data makes clear, which is that election administration is becoming an increasingly demanding field that is sorely in need of additional funding. Election officials have laid the solid groundwork by reporting data from their jurisdictions and using the survey to come up with new solutions, but they must have support from lawmakers and other stakeholders to make the process more secure and efficient for voters across the nation.

Christy McCormick is chairwoman of the Election Assistance Commission. Benjamin Hovland is vice chairman of the Election Assistance Commission.