Making North Carolina elections more transparent and accessible

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By Rebecca Kreitzer and Whitney Ross Manzo *

This post calls attention to two important issues related to voting in North Carolina: first, that statewide voting is inconsistent, and second, that voters are concerned about the safety of the process. Making voting more consistent and increasing transparency and education about the voting process will improve both voter fairness and confidence in our electoral system.

how inconsistent is voting across North Carolina?

The counties of North Carolina spend very different amounts on administering elections. Figure 1 shows the total amount spent by each county in North Carolina in the 2018 election cycle (7/1/2017 to 6/30/2019). More densely populated counties like Mecklenburg and Wake spent about $ 10 million each, while counties with fewer inhabitants, like Tyrrell and Washington, spent more than $ 200,000. Person County, which is north of Durham and has a population of over 39,000, reported spending $ 0 to conduct elections during this cycle.


The average amount spent by each county was $ 11.84 per capita. Several counties spent two or even three times that amount, and one county spent 10 times that amount. This spending is somewhat related to population, but the relationship is not as close as one might think. As Figure 2 shows, as a county’s population grows, in general, per capita election spending decreases. ** However, this decrease occurs abruptly, and once a county reaches around 45,000 inhabitants, it can spend anywhere between $ 5 and $ 15 per capita.


This differential spending manifests itself in many ways, from the number of early voting and election day sites open, to the county offering mail to vote, to what kind of “I voted!” swag that receives a voter. Some counties have apps that let voters know how long the lines are, while other counties struggle to find enough staff who know how to operate a computer. These inconsistencies are important because we know from Kropf and Pope (2020) that election spending is closely related to voter turnout.

When fewer polling stations are open and functioning, the lines lengthen, which inevitably causes some voters to drift away. Even those voters willing to queue may have a hard time finding their polling station, as poorer, more rural counties struggle to find suitable and centrally located community buildings that can host elections. Voters in these counties will inevitably have less access to the vote than voters in wealthier counties, and this deprives North Carolina’s young and independents in some counties and North Carolina’s poorest Latinos in others.

Are electoral security problems a problem?

In autumn 2020, the Meredith Poll found that nearly 17 percent of North Carolina people were unsure whether our voting processes would produce accurate results. These sentiments were most pronounced among non-whites in North Carolina and older in North Carolina, groups that traditionally have difficulty accessing the vote equally.

Voters who do not fully trust the process are far less likely to go and vote, which is a problem if we want elected officials to be truly representative of the wishes of all their constituencies. However, poor political effectiveness – defined as someone who feels like they can’t impact the political process, or that the political process won’t listen to them if they try – is also a dangerous problem for democracy itself. This is because a high political effectiveness is linked to the stability of democracy.

Therefore, if working to improve the political effectiveness of the North Carolinians is not a top priority, assuring them that their vote matters, that their vote matters, and that the entire voting process is safe, then the risks are substantial. for the health of citizens. The government and society of North Carolina.

policy recommendations

If some Americans find it harder to vote than others, it means that some votes matter more than others. The United States Supreme Court found in Wesberry v. Sanders (1964) that every vote cast in an election must be counted equally, or the requirement of Article I that our representatives be chosen “by the people” is not met. Likewise, if large numbers of Americans do not vote because they do not trust the process, their views will not be represented and we cannot even claim that our government is “of the people”.

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How can we increase voting consistency across North Carolina?

One way to increase consistency across North Carolina is to balance the electoral administration budgets of our 100 counties by shifting the funding of this important civic event to the state level. The state could ensure that every county gets an appropriate amount of funding for its population, which then ensures that every North Carolina has access to roughly the same electoral experience. Overall election spending could also decrease if this happens, because, as Figure 2 above demonstrates, the provision of election services becomes cheaper as more voters are involved due to economies of scale.

Another way to make things more consistent across the state would be to expand mail-order voting. There has been a lot of misinformation about security and the implications of postal voting. However, there is a consensus among experts that there are few cases of documented fraud with postal voting. It also improves turnout for all demographic groups and does not benefit a political party.

Also, a majority of Republicans and Democrats want vote by mail. In fact, a Reuters / Ipsos poll before the 2020 election reported that 72% of Americans, including 79% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans, wanted the government request election ballot for the November 2020 elections. This view has been at least partially influenced by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but voters like to vote by mail even in elections held outside of a pandemic because it is cost effective and improves serious problems with access to the polls, such as lack of transport or the location or times of polling stations. It also allows voters to be more considerate, as they can take their time to go through the entire ballot at home instead of feeling rushed in the voting booth.

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How can we increase voter confidence in the security of North Carolina elections?

We need to assure North Carolina voters that the electoral process is safe and that their vote will count. This requires an education of the voters on how to vote and what happens to their vote after they have submitted it. How do you register to vote? How can you submit your vote? Where does it go next? Who counts the ballots, and when? The North Carolina Board of Elections has good answers to all of these questions on their website, but they are scattered in different places and are not as easy to follow as they could be.

To aid in voter education efforts, we have created a hyperlinked infographic that walks voters through the entire process, from who is eligible to vote to certification of the final count. It aims to make the vote as clear as possible and ensure that everyone feels confident in the accuracy and legitimacy of the process. When voters have confidence in the process, they will be more likely to accept the election results and remain satisfied and engaged with our government.

A full-size version of this infographic with clickable hyperlinks is available here Other here.

conclusion

We can take steps now to improve our elections in the future, before the effects of the pandemic wreak havoc on county budgets

and make voting even more difficult for North Carolina’s in the 2022 and 2024 election cycles. If North Carolina values ​​the fundamental democratic principle of “government by the people, by the people, for the people,” we should make the coherent, accessible and transparent voting.

Democracy only really works when everyone has the same ability to use their voice.

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* Rebecca J. Kreitzer is active associate professor of public policy to UNC-Chapel Hill and tweet to @rebeccakreitzer. Whitney Ross Manzo is an associate professor of political science and assistant director of the Meredith Poll at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. She tweets to @whitneymnz.

** This chart does not include the outliers of Wake and Mecklenburg (due to high population) and Polk (due to high per capita expenditure) in order to magnify the variation in the data.

The authors thank Strategic Network of North Carolina Scholars

for supporting this work and Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College for his helpful comments.

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