New Pew Brief Details 2014 Voting Experience

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[Image courtesy of pewtrusts]

Yesterday, the elections team at The Pew Charitable Trusts released a brief with the latest results on voters’ experience in the 2014 election. It contains some interesting insights about the difference between voters’ expectations about Election Day and what actually happened. The release has more:

Wait times: Many voters spent less time waiting at the polls than they expected to. Among those who anticipated a wait of more than an hour, 71 percent ended up in line for less than 10 minutes. More than 90 percent of respondents who expected to wait less than 10 minutes actually did so. Only 2 percent of respondents spent more than an hour at their polling places.

Voting method: Significant variation was seen between how respondents said they planned to cast their ballots and how they eventually voted. Among those who requested an absentee ballot in the months before Election Day, for example, 23 percent ended up voting in person, either on Election Day or at an early voting site. Another 14 percent ultimately did not vote.

Mail voting: According to this research, although “mail voting” accurately describes the way ballots are sent to voters, it is not necessarily the manner in which they are returned. Roughly two-thirds of those who received ballots in the mail returned them by mail, and just under a third returned the ballots in person to a polling place, early voting center, or drop box.

Based on these findings, Pew’s team reached the following conclusion in the brief:

Most voters experienced short waits to vote in 2014, and many found the lines to be substantially shorter than they expected. Voters had more realistic expectations of the wait times than did nonvoters; survey respondents who turned out in the 2014 midterm election anticipated waiting in line for less time than did those who chose not to vote.

Voters’ expectations of themselves were sometimes unrealistic as well. Many people who intended to vote ultimately chose not to. Others changed their minds about their preferred methods for casting a ballot. Mail voting in particular can lead to unexpected outcomes. It introduces flexibility into the voting experience but can add complexity and costs for administrators when voters who request mail ballots ultimately vote by another means. Voters are taking advantage of the extended time during which they can return their ballots and are returning them other ways than via the Postal Service. These patterns are likely to continue as more states offer early and mail voting methods and as voters acclimate to using convenient options that fit their lives.

[A PDF of the full report is here and a spreadsheet with toplines from the survey can be accessed here.]

While efforts to address election administration issues from the policy side are and continue to be important, we need this kind of “customer service” snapshot to help policymakers and election officials alike know what voters are thinking as they head out to cast their ballots. Thanks as always to the Pew team for this work – I can’t wait to see how this data shakes out in 2016 when so many more voters are expected to cast their ballots whether or not they actually head to the polls.

Stay tuned!

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