I. In Focus This Week

Data Dispatches
Exploring Election Performance Metrics

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As state and local governments continue to struggle with balancing their budgets, looking at every possible way to cut costs, performance management has become a critical component in linking performance to budgeting.



Good performance management requires good data collection and the establishment of core metrics used to assess how well a state or county performs day-to-day administration, the result of which are goal-setting agendas that increase efficiency and reduce costs.

While the concept of government performance is not new, it has become increasingly prevalent in the past two decades with the passage of both the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) in 1993 and the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), an executive order signed by George W. Bush in 2002, serving as a harbinger of this trend.

GPRA mandates that federal agencies develop strategic plans, annual performance plans, and performance reports. The PART complements GPRA, in that it tries to identify the outcomes of an agency, establishes quantifiable long-term and annual performance measures, and finally rates the agency on its achievement of these metrics.

Even though election administration has not remained immune to the trend to incorporate performance assessments, it has mostly remained “under the radar.”

At the federal level both the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the Federal Election Commission, are obligated to produce annual performance reports.

Performance assessment in local election administration has also been marked by one of the federalist system’s defining features — decentralization.

Typically counties and city governments play the central role in assessing election administration performance with much of that data — usually broken down by performance standard and strategic goal — found as part of annual reports and annual budgets issued by county or in some cases by city governments (as in the case of Minneapolis).  

Decentralization, of course, begets substantial diversity in the level of performance measurements across counties. Looking at a sample of performance reports from various states and counties across the U.S., a few general observations can be made.

First, because state election codes vary, performance goals and measures used by counties in different states vary. There are, however, some common goals, across counties across different states, such as providing or increasing voter registration among eligible voters.

Second, performance goals and measures used by counties within the same state also vary, as counties typically finance the conduct of elections and seem to be determining what outcomes they hope to achieve.

For example, North Carolina’s Randolph and Wake counties have different goals in spite of their close proximity. In prior performance reports, Wake County’s performance measurements relating to voter registration included the cost per voter registration card processed and the time required to electronically transmit results, while Randolph County’s performance measurements includedthe number of structures that meet ADA compliances and the timely processing of death certificates to maintain precise voter registration files.

Third, performance goals and measures used by the same county have also changed from year to year. For instances, the Randolph County Elections Office specified in its annual report that beginning in FY06, the county would change how it measures its strategic goal “to alleviate crowded conditions at polling places on Election Day.” The metric for this goal would change from “percent of votes cast reconciled with number of voters on Canvass Day” to the “number of voters participating in one-stop [early] voting”. This decision came after the county decided that the former metric did not actually measure the set goal.

Fourth, outcomes and goals vary in terms of breadth. Examples of concrete performance goals are those set by Fairfax County, Va. possibly the result of a detailed Strategic Plan by the State Board of Elections in accordance with Virginia Performs.

One of Fairfax’s key performance measures is “to provide the legally mandated one voting machine for each 750 registered voters in each precinct with a minimum of three voting machines per precinct and a countywide average of 4.46 voting machines per precinct” (a goal for FY10 that actually changed for FY12).

In contrast, New York’s Schuyler County uses the broader goal, of trying “to fully staff all polling places with well trained, knowledgeable election inspectors.”

Finally, there are exceptions in the quality and availability of reports produced by select counties. Both Montgomery County and Prince George’s County in Maryland publish detailed performance measures in the annual operating budget, outlining the mission set by the department and the dollar amount allocated to the operating costs of an election.

While much debate has focused on the difficulty of finding performance indicators that would serve across states, the debate almost assumed that election administrators were not conducting performance assessments. As far as we can tell, that's not the case and there may be even an even greater wealth of indicators across county and state lines – with the potential for the more than 3,000 counties to set unique performance metrics.

Thus, the search for national election performance indicators may be better served to begin from the bottom-up, rather than the top-down, especially since performance indicators, however basic, may have been in use since the late 1990s. If this is the case, certain counties may have had considerable time to hone their performance metrics and could provide valuable insight to those counties who are just getting started.


II. Election News This Week

  • The federal government has filed court documents supporting a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to strike down Arizona's voter-approved requirement that residents provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. The court ruled that the National Voter Registration Act pre-empts Arizona's Proposition 200, which was passed by voters in 2004. The state successfully asked the court to reconsider the decision and an 11-member judge panel of the Appeals Court will rehear it June 21 in Pasadena, Calif. Among its provisions, the National Voter Registration Act creates a standard federal registration form that all states must accept. It requires applicants to sign a statement that they are citizens, but does not require them to show any proof. Last week, the federal government filed a court brief arguing that Proposition 200 is pre-empted by the federal voter registration act and that Congress intentionally forbids states from requiring proof of citizenship in order to vote. Arizona’s Attorney General Tom Horne is none-too-pleased. "This is contrary to the interests of the people of the United State of America."
  • Residents of New Jersey went to the polls for a primary election on Tuesday and there were reports of problems at the polls and tabulation centers throughout the Garden State. While most of the problems occurred after the polls closed, some problems did occur with the opening of polling places including one in Jersey City that opened over an hour late. In Morris County, in addition to problems with a voting machine at an East Hanover polling location, the county tabulation machine jammed and results were delayed until Wednesday. Twenty hours after the polls closed, Sussex County was finally able to announce election results after a glitch in the system posted inaccurate vote totals on election night. In Somerset County, close races and malfunctioning voting machines forced the county clerk to wait until Wednesday morning to post the results. Results were delayed in several Middlesex County townships as well including Monroe where the voting machines were printing illegible numbers. In Essex County, the township of Montclair a computer program went “awry” and prevented the town clerk from counting ballots which still had not been completely tallied at press time.
  • This week, Maine became the latest in a growing list of states battling over election reform legislation. At issue in The Pine Tree State is same-day registration. After extensive debate, the Senate voted 18-17 in favor of a bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration in an initial vote Wednesday. The bill would also ban absentee voting the two business days prior to an election. In 2010, about 20,000 people registered to vote on Election Day and in 2008, a presidential election year, the number was about 50,000. Supporters say the proposal is aimed to alleviate Election Day burdens on municipal workers and help prevent voter fraud, but opponents say it will disenfranchise voters. The House also offered initial approval for the measure, which faces further votes.
  • The Cost of Recounts: According to The Associated Press, the total tab for the Wisconsin Supreme Court recount was more than $500,000. Waukesha County — at the center of the controversy — spent more than $130,000 for their portion of the recount. Costs covered everything from judges hired to oversee the process, tabulators, court reporters and additional security personnel. While the costs of the recount in Wisconsin were covered by the government, counties in Minnesota are still waiting for the state’s GOP to reimburse them for the December 2010 recount in the state’s gubernatorial election. “We have about 20 counties left to go,” GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said. “We have been chipping away on them.” Sutton estimated that the party could finish paying its recount bills within four weeks. He said about $20,000 remains to be paid.
  • Voter ID Update: After Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed Minnesota’s legislatively approved voter ID bill, GOP legislators vowed to continue the fight and this week two lawmakers vowed to continue the fight next year as a constitutional amendment. New Hampshire lawmakers in both the House and Senate have approved photo ID legislation, however Gov. John Lynch has expressed concerns about the legislation and it’s believed that he may veto it. North Carolina’s version of voter ID legislation went through some changes this week when House Republicans abandoned an earlier proposal that did not include a photo requirement and instead offered up new legislation that would require a government-issued photo ID to vote. Although it’s divided legislators, it appears that Pennsylvania’s proposed voter ID bill will pass the House in the coming days.

III. Research and Report Summaries

electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. Please e-mail links to research to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Voting System Scorecard: Are States Serving the Rising Electorate? – Rock the Vote, June 2011: Rock the Vote evaluated state election laws and practices to assess how well states are serving young voters in three broad categories: voter registration, casting a ballot, and young voter preparation.

Bubble Trouble: Off-Line De-Anonymization of Bubble Forms - Joseph A. Calandrino, William Clarkson and Edward W. Felten, Department of Computer Science, Princeton University, June 2011: The researchers examine fill-in-the-bubble forms used for surveys, election ballots, and standardized tests. They find that the bubble markings do not necessarily keep the user’s identity anonymous, noting this leaves the secrecy of some election ballots susceptible to attack. Ways to mitigate these threats are discussed and future research is suggested.


IV. Opinions

National: Election reform, II, III, IV, V; Voter ID

Arizona: Mail-in ballots; Voting rights lawsuit

California: Nevada County

Delaware: National Popular Vote

Florida: Election reform

Idaho: Voter ID

Maine: Same-day registration; Election reform, II

Mississippi: Voter ID

Missouri: Vote fraud

New Jersey: Election day registration

North Carolina: Early voting; Election reform

Ohio: Election reform, II

Pennsylvania: Voter ID, II, III

South Carolina: Voter ID

Tennessee: National Popular Vote

Texas: Voter ID

Wisconsin: Election changes, II; Voter ID, II; Voter fraud



V. Job Openings