It Takes All Kinds: Jurisdiction Size in Election Administration


[Image courtesy of Social Media Blog]

[This post has been updated to reflect that Brady Baybeck is affiliated with Wayne State University. At least I caught my own mistake!]

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to be a part of “HAVA at 10“, a conference sponsored by my friends and colleagues in the Election Law program at Ohio State’s Moritz School of Law.

There were a number of interesting discussions, but one I wanted to share today came courtesy of David Kimball of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He presented a paper (still in draft form) that he prepared with his colleague Brady Baybeck of Wayne State University. The paper argues that “size matters” in election administration given the impact that a jurisdiction’s size has on many different aspects of elections.

Kimball and Baybeck divide the nation’s election offices into three sizes: small (1,000 voters or fewer), medium (up to 50,000) and large (greater than 50,000). The population splits, they argue, give clues as to the types of communities election officials serve. Small jurisdictions tend to have few polling places – and the limited number of voters make the local election official most like a high school principal given the high degree of contact with voters and poll workers. By contrast, election officials in medium jurisdictions are more like managers of a fast food franchise – perhaps still able to check on a limited number of polling places but not as close to the necessarily larger number of poll workers and voters. Large jurisdictions’ election officials are most like CEOs, with larger staffs and less opportunity to interact with poll workers and voters.

The key observation of the study is that while large jurisdictions comprise only a small proportion of election jurisdictions overall (less than 10%), they serve the lion’s share of voters – about two-thirds of the electorate in the 2008 election. This means that larger jurisdictions are likely to face different problems – and have different attitudes about the need for reform – than their colleagues in smaller communities.

At the meeting on Friday, Kimball went so far as to suggest that larger election jurisdictions ought to consider forming their own organization to advocate for the kinds of reforms that benefit them.

I’m still digesting the details of the draft but the idea – that election officials and their communities are not created equal – is food for thought going forward.

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