Election administration refers to the processes used to compile the electoral register and then count and cast votes. For example, do citizens have to visit a polling station in order to vote, or can vote via the post or internet?
It is important because it can influence how many people vote, how easy it is to conduct fraud, whether we have confidence in the integrity of elections and sometimes even who wins elections.
Many countries have experimented with election administration in recent years. In some countries the focus has been on reducing perceived voter fraud and making it more difficult to vote. Many states in the USA have therefore introduced voter ID laws, the UK government are introducing individual electoral registration (see below). In contrast, Estonia has recently introduced internet voting, making it much easier to vote (see the video below).
Election administration can affect turnout
I have recently evaluated changes made to election administration in the UK 1997-2007. The lessons of these changes appear to be that election administration can increase turnout, especially in ‘second order’ election such as local or European elections. All-postal voting appears to be very effective at increasing turnout. This article was published in the Election Law Journal.
I have developed a continuum onto which different forms of election administration can be placed according to their effect on turnout. This can be consulted by policy-makers around the world to establish methods to increase turnout in their jurisdiction. This was recently published in the journal Representation.
The effects of individual electoral registration (IER) on British elections
One major change in the pipeline in Britain is the move to individual electoral registration. I have recently given evidence to the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform about the likely impact that individual electoral registration will have on elections. Download my evidence here.
In short, it suggests that the introduction of individual electoral registration will be costly and, by itself, reduce levels of electoral registration in the UK. Since the research was published the Coalition government has invested new resources and strategies to push electoral registration up (see Chloe Smith explaining this below).
Is this enough? Time will tell. I have suggested that having election-day registration as a long-term policy goal will help, as will central government giving more money to electoral registration officers.
The politics of election administration
I have studied why election administration might change in a democracy. A number of factors are important. These might include technological change and demographic change. But often the interests of politicians is important, as I have demonstrated in recent articles in the journals British Politics and Contemporary Politics
I will also report comparative findings in my monograph called Elite Statecraft and Election Administration, which was published by Palgrave in 2012.
- James, T.S. (2012) Elite Statecraft and Election Administration: Bending the Rules of the Game, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.
- (2012) ‘The Spill-over and Displacement Effects of Implementing Election Administration Reforms: Introducing Individual Electoral Registration in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs, first published online 25 June 2012.
- James, T.S. (2011) ‘Only in America? Executive partisan interest and the politics of election administration in Ireland, the UK and the USA’,Contemporary Politics, 17(3), September 2011. p.219-240.
- James, T.S. (2010) ‘Electoral Modernisation or Elite Statecraft: Electoral Administration in the United Kingdom 1997-2007′, British Politics, 5, p.179-201.
- James, T.S. (2011) ‘Fewer “costs”, more votes? U.K. Innovations in Electoral Administration 2000-2007 and their effect on voter turnout’, Election Law Journal, 10(1), p.37-52.
- James, T.S. (2010) ‘Electoral Administration and Voter Turnout: Towards an International Public Policy Continuum’, Representation, 46(4), p.369-89.