The basic concern arising from election failure is voter disenfranchisement. If election systems are not accurately recording votes, then they are potentially misrepresenting the will of the people, especially in close elections. In 2006, close elections in Virginia, Ohio, New Mexico, and Florida exposed the potential for election results’ hinging on the reliability of voting machines. Rivaling this question in importance is the issue of voter trust and confidence in the system. Consequences from a lack of trust in the system have been argued to range from broad public policy trends to unwillingness among citizens to engage in public service or even obey laws. Research on the voting experience therefore becomes important to our nation, as pertinent data collection and analyses may illuminate avenues to a stronger res publica.
The specter of election mismanagement is not the sole antagonist of public trust. Prior studies on specific trust lend weight to the postulation that more subtle factors can have effect. Objective conditions of the polling place and perceptions of the voting experience can affect both the voter’s short-term confidence in democracy and long-term attitudes toward its workings. It seems obvious that voters who encounter shorter lines, knowledgeable and pleasant poll workers, clean and organized polling places, and simple voting procedures will have a better voting experience than those voters who are subjected to less desirable conditions. However, little research has been done on the quality of the voting experience and how it differs from one location to the next.
This paucity of research is surprising considering the impact voter confidence and voter satisfaction levels can have on a democratic society. CSED hopes to alleviate this oversight by conducting a comprehensive investigation of the voting experience. CSED completed a pilot study of the voting experience in Ohio and Utah in 2006. The study surveyed voters leaving the polling place to measure the quality of their experience. It also systematically assessed the conditions of the polling location and matched those characteristics with voter attitudes. Finally, the study surveyed poll workers and matched their responses to the respondents who voted at the locations where they worked. For a full discussion of the methodology and findings of the study, see our Election Day 2006 report.