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 wishes to do the same. In contrast, Estonia has recently introduced internet voting, making it much easier to vote (see the video below).
Election administration can affect turnout
The introduction of voter ID requirements can reduce turnout amongst those without the necessary documents – or those who decide not provide it in protest. These are some of findings with Alistair Clark that evaluated the UK’s pilots of voter ID in Policy Studies.
I have 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 that has recently been introduced in Britain is the move to individual electoral registration. I have 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 rates such as online registration.
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.
Poll workers and electoral administration
With Alistair Clark I have recently undertaken the first ever poll worker survey in the UK. This has collected original data on the training that poll workers receive, the problems that they face and how well elections are run in Britain. Initial findings about the problems that they face are in this conference paper and policy brief. Initial findings about why they volunteer are available here.
From Research to Policy
With Bite the Ballot, I have worked with Parliamentarians to improve electoral administration in the UK. We published 25 recommendations for improving voter registration in our Report on Getting the Missing Millions Back on the Electoral Register. This received critically acclaim and some parts have been taken forward as government and opposition policy. As a result, I was shortlisted for a finalist for the 2018 ESRC Impact Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Public Policy. I wrote an article in British Politics about our story.
- (2016) ‘Getting the missing millions back on the electoral register,’the All Party Parliamentary Group on Voter Registration, April 2016, with Bite the Ballot.
- (2015) The Electoral Fraud Review, Evidence to Eric Pickles Review of Electoral Fraud, October 2015.
- (2015) ‘Electoral fraud isn’t the biggest problem at British polling stations….. it’s the electoral register’, Political Studies Association Blog, 14th October 2015, with Alistair Clark.
- (2014) ‘Voter Engagement in the UK – second submission‘, Evidence to the The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, House of Commons, 27 August 2014.
- (2014) ‘Voter Engagement in the U.K.‘, Oral Evidence to the The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, House of Commons, 3 April 2014.
- (2014) ‘The Spill-over and Displacement Effects of Implementing Election Administration Reforms: Introducing Individual Electoral Registration in Britain’, Parliamentary Affairs, 67 (2): 281-305.
- James, T.S. (2012) Elite Statecraft and Election Administration: Bending the Rules of the Game, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.
- 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.