“Today’s Election Administration Landscape”

From Paul Gronke at Electionline Weekly:

As regular electionline Weekly readers know, the administration of elections in the United States is a decentralized system with a complex set of diverse institutional arrangements that vary across states and sub-state jurisdictions.

Nearly 8,000 officials spread across 50 states and the District of Columbia hold many titles. They are selected by many different methods, and have varying degrees of autonomy from their states (and their counties in the instance of villages, cities, etc., who conduct elections in Michigan, Wisconsin, and New England states). And, of course, they operate in very different political, demographic, and geographical environments.

In the face of this diversity, there are common features, predicable challenges, and a shared professional commitment that connects officials from the smallest Midwestern or New England township to densely populated urban and sprawling metropolitan suburban areas.

Since 2018, the Elections & Voting Information Center (EVIC) at Reed College has created and continuously evolved its often quoted and highly anticipated annual Survey of Local Election Officials (LEOs). And today, after the dust begins to settle on Election Day 2023 and election officials throughout the country shift focus to the 2024 primaries and presidential election, our team is proud to share our 2023 LEO Survey results and report.

In response to feedback from the elections community, researchers, and others working in the democracy space, we learned that a major challenge faced by almost all offices is summed up by one term: resiliency. In this turbulent time of rapid change, competitive elections, and increased public scrutiny, how have these offices adapted and performed?

Key takeaways from the 2023 LEO Survey include:

  • Job satisfaction remains high. LEOs say that “integrity”, “service”, and “community” come to mind when they think about what they like about their jobs. When asked what they don’t like about their jobs, “misinformation”, “politics”, and “stress” are at the top of their minds.
  • Peak elections workload forces most officials to stretch to their limits, or go beyond them. On a percentage basis, the increased workload during “peak” election season is truly extraordinary – from 50% to 535% higher hours worked during elections as compared to the rest of the year. This is dependent on the size of the jurisdiction.
  • Turnover is twice as high as found in prior LEO surveys. However, loss of institutional knowledge may be tempered by lateral movement. For example, the average LEO in the largest-sized (>100,000) jurisdictional category has been in their current position for only 5 years, but has 16 years of experience in elections. We need to know not just about when LEOs depart, but we need to know about who replaces a LEO when they depart.
  • Staffing and hiring continue to be a challenge for many election offices. Barriers to hiring include job classifications that have fallen out of sync with the skill sets currently needed to administer elections as well as non-competitive pay. LEOs are divided as to whether the political environment is a barrier.
  • Misinformation is a concern among most LEOs. LEOs in smaller jurisdictions rely primarily on face-to-face communication to counter misinformation, while LEOs in larger jurisdictions rely on a broad suite of communications channels that includes social media, websites, email, etc.
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