Recent research on state election reform implementation efforts

There is a paper by Valentina Bali and Brian Silver (both from Michigan State University), that was recently published in the journal State Politics and Policy Quarterly (Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2006, pages 21-48). This paper, “Politics, Race, and American State Electoral Reforms after Election 2000”, looks at the political and fiscal factors that are associated with state election reform efforts after the 2000 presidential election.

Bali and Silver look at state election reform efforts in 2001 and 2002 (that is, after the 2000 presidential election, but before HAVA passage and implementation). They use two different methodological approaches, and a multivariate statistical model that includes a variety of political, fiscal, and other possible correlates of state efforts to implement election reform, pre-HAVA. In summary, Bali and Silver find:

Taken together, the models in Tables 1 and 2 suggest the following about the influences on state electoral reform after the troubled 2000 election. Having a close partisan electoral balance hindered a state’s chances of passing any electoral reforms (Hypothesis 5), while having a divided government enhanced its chances of adopting more restrictive electoral policy. Partisan control of state government had only a main effect on voting barrier reforms, while Republican-controlled states were more likely to restrict voter access (Hypothesis 3). We also found evidence of a strategic link between Republican control and Hispanic representation across several reforms, with Republican controlled states with a larger Hispanic population adopting less restrictive electoral reforms (Hypothesis 2). The main effect of racial composition was mixed, although the models using the summary index suggest a tendency to adopt more restrictive electoral laws when the proportion of blacks in a state was high (Hypothesis 3). Legislative institutions and fiscal constraints had little impact on electoral reform (Hypotheses 6 and 8), although previous electoral laws efforts, as measured by the base objective needs variables, did influence the adoption of several of the reforms (Hypothesis 1). Term limits did not have an impact in any of the election reform adoption models (Hypothesis 7) and so we excluded it from the analyses.

They then look at state-by-state efforts in 2003 to implement HAVA-compliant legislation, using a multivariate statisical model much like the one they used for the 2001-2002 analysis of pre-HAVA reform efforts. Oddly, they only find that one factor — legislative professionalism — has a statistical association with passage of HAVA-compliant legislation in 2003, and it had a negative effect on HAVA-compliance (that is, more professional legislatures were less likely to pass HAVA-compliant legislation, which Bali and Silver argue is due to greater independence of more professionalized legislatures and some weak evidence that more professionalized legislatures were more likely to pass election reform before 2003). Generally, they argue that the inability of their model to explain the degree to which states passed HAVA-compliant legislation in 2003 may arise because a number of states passed significant reforms before HAVA.

All in all, an interesting analysis for those who are interested in studying state efforts to implement election reform. Of course, it would be a productive research exercise to extend this analysis through 2006, as election reform is still a work-in-progress in many states (and is likely to be so for the near future).