EAC — Yes on poll worker projects, but we need basic research!

In the past few days, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has issued three new “Requests for Proposals”, which can be viewed on their website. One (RFP 05-04) deals with mainly technical assistance to the EAC on using web-based tools to develop a clearinghouse for legal resources for election officials. The other two proposals (RFP 05-05 and RFP 05-06) are focused on polling place workers, with the latter specifically dealing with college polling place workers.

While both polling place worker projects do clearly call for basic research into methods of recruitment, retention and training of polling place workers, the eventual products the EAC is seeking are largely best practice guides. For example, in the RFP 05-05 statement of work, it states: “The main product of this effort will consist of a manual that encompasses both a collection of identified best practices in the area of pollworker recruitment, training, and retention, as well as specific steps required to implement such programs in various jurisdictions.” The wording in RFP 05-06 is virtually identical, with the primary difference being the insertion of the phrase “college poll worker” for “poll worker.”

In 2001, the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project found:

We lost between 500,000 and 1.2 million votes because of polling place operations. According to the U.S. Census, Current Population Survey, 2.8 percent of the forty million registered voters who did not vote in 2000 stated that they did not vote because of problems with polling place operations such as lines, hours, or locations. The figure was 1.2 percent in 1996.”

Unfortunately, it is not clear that things improved at all in 2004, as preliminary data from the U.S. Census indicates that 3.0% of registered voters who did not vote pointed to inconveniences in polling places as the reason. Note that these problems have slightly increased after 2000, and have almost doubled in magnitude since 1996.

While best practice manuals clearly are a good idea, we also need to undertake basic research to understand what exactly is causing problems in polling places, and why those problems might be getting worse in recent presidential elections.