New Census Mobility Data: A Snapshot of the Annual Challenge for Election Officials


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Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest data on population mobility within the United States. Most news stories focused on the fact that mobility is down overall – indeed, the most recent data reflects the lowest rate of mobility since the study began in 1948.

Tucked inside the data, however, is snapshot of the challenge that mobility presents for election officials across the country. Specifically, the data shows that of the 25.6 million Americans 18 and older who moved in 2010:

  • + 3.3% moved abroad;
  • + 14.1% moved across state lines;
  • + 17.3% moved across county lines within the same state; and
  • + 65.3% moved within the same county.

Every single one of these moves – across the globe or across the street – creates different challenges for election officials. International moves require all concerned to find ways to send information and ballots long distance in short times, while domestic moves generate the need to update voter rolls to reflect the change of address.

What’s most interesting about the 2010 data is that despite the traditional image of Americans packing up and moving to a new life in a far-away community, the vast majority of moves – 2 out of 3 – are within the same community. Such data suggest (as we have already seen elsewhere) that the field of elections needs to evolve to capture this pattern of constant change within communities and not just between them.

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