Election Science and the 2022 U.S. Elections

Believe it or not, we are well into the 2022 U.S. midterm elections. Our research group is still working on various research products using the vast amount of data that we collected in 2020, and I’ll be writing more about those research projects here in the near future.

It’s now spring quarter at Caltech, when I traditionally teach our introduction to elections and campaigns class, Political Science 120. The past few weeks, as I’ve been going back over a lot of research on election administration and technology, teaching it to the students in the class, I’ve also been reflecting quite a bit on the state of election science and the advances that have been made in the past two decades.

I recently took a few old Votomatic punchcard devices to class, to show the students, and when I pulled them off the shelf where they had been stored, look what fell out!

These chads brought back to life what things were like in the immediate aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, in those days when there was little academic research on election technology and administration. When the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP) was getting started in the fall of 2000, we were surprised to learn that we lacked basic measures, like how to measure the reliability of voting technologies (which of course led to the invention of the residual vote measure, which is a story to tell later).

As I was recounting in class a brief version of the history of the VTP, I realized two things. First, it’s remarkable the amount of research that the VTP has produced. There are quite a few working papers available on the VTP website, and many others that have been posted in other working paper and preprint archives. Much of this research has been published in peer reviewed journals, and VTP researchers have also produced a number of books in the past two decades. Second, it’s also remarkable to see the dramatic growth and diversification in the academic study of election administration and technology. While back in 2000 I think that there were just a few dozen scholars with experience in the field, that number has exploded in recent years. It’s common today to see election science research being presented and discussed at major academic conferences, and there’s now an annual conference devoted to the field (the Election Sciences, Reform, and Administration annual conference, to be held at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte — July 27-29, 2022). Election science research is also ever more common in the journals today, with new generations of scholars helping to build a strong foundation of published work that continues to advance knowledge in the field.

The challenge is going to be working to document these trends this year, in addition to writing more here about the work that our research group and the VTP are conducting, I’ll continue to try to connect to the other research that is being done in the field, providing context for what other scholars are working on as we get further and further into the 2022 election cycle.

And before I go, one last thing — it’s great to report that the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project is alive and well, twenty-two years after it was founded by the Presidents of Caltech and MIT in the fall of 2000!