COVID-19 forced states to make myriad adjustments to their elections administration in order to ensure sufficient access to the ballot. Changes included expanding voter access to the use of absentee ballots, extending voter registration deadlines, and increasing the number of polling places, among others. How well did states do in adapting their elections administration?
To answer this question, I turned to Professor Zachary Courser and Professor Eric Helland. They co-direct Claremont McKenna College’s Policy Lab, an interdisciplinary policy research program that teaches students policy writing and research skills that prepare students for work in legislatures, think tanks, and non-governmental organizations. Zach, Eric, and their Policy Lab students spent the past year examining states’ emergency election statutes and election administration adaptations during the pandemic, and they have some interesting findings.
You and your students created a scorecard to measure states’ adaptations to make voting accessible during the pandemic. How did you create the scorecard, and which states scored highest?
Before the election, we evaluated state statutes dealing with elections emergencies to understand the legal framework for adaptation during an emergency, and then tracked all the adaptations that states took to ensure access to voting for the general election. We then analyzed which measures were most likely to have an effect on increasing access during the pandemic and assigned each a score accordingly. Adaptations clustered in four main categories: vote-by-mail, drop-off boxes, deadline adjustments, and polling place adjustments. We assigned measures for mail-in voting the highest point value, as we think they did the most to protect health and promote perceptions of safety during the pandemic. As a result, states that already had all-mail elections, or adapted by increasing access to absentee balloting, tended to score higher.
The average grade was a C, and as you can see from the map below, the highest scoring states clustered in the west. Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah all score A’s, with New Jersey scoring the highest in the nation. Southern states were laggards on access generally, scoring the lowest as a region — with most states rating a D or F. Missouri scored the lowest in the nation.