What Do Local Election Officials Think about Election Reform?: Results of a Survey

CRS Report for Congress
What Do Local Election Officials Think about
Election Reform?: Results of a Survey
Updated June 23, 2005
Eric A. Fischer
Senior Specialist in Science and Technology
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Kevin J. Coleman
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

What Do Local Election Officials Think about Election
Reform?: Results of a Survey
There are more than 9,000 local election jurisdictions in the United States.
Local election officials (LEOs) are responsible for administering elections in those
jurisdictions. LEOs are therefore critical to the successful implementation of the
Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA, P.L. 107-252) and state election laws, but
there has been little objective information on the perceptions and attitudes of those
officials about election reform. This report, which will not be updated, discusses the
results of a recent scientific survey of LEOs. The findings may be useful to Congress
in considering funding and possible reauthorization of HAVA.
The demographic characteristics of LEOs are unusual for a group of government
officials. Almost three-quarters are women, and 5% belong to minority groups.
Most do not have a college degree, and most were elected to their positions. Some
survey results suggest areas of potential professional improvement, such as in
education and in professional involvement at the national level.
Over the past 20 years, jurisdictions have turned increasingly to computer-
assisted voting systems — especially optical scan and direct recording electronic
(DRE) systems. The most important factors reported by LEOs in the acquisition of
new systems are federal and state requirements and funding. HAVA encourages but
does not require systems that detect voter error, but it does require that voting
machines be available that are fully accessible to persons with disabilities. About
half of jurisdictions with optical scan systems use central-count, which cannot help
voters to correct mistakes before casting the ballot. However, most jurisdictions
acquiring new voting systems are choosing either precinct-count optical scan or
DREs, both of which can help voters avoid errors.
LEOs are generally highly satisfied with whatever voting systems they are using
now. They have less confidence in the performance and security of other systems.
DRE users generally oppose the use of voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPAT) for
DREs, but users of other systems favor it. This result could mean that users are
overconfident in DREs or that nonusers are insufficiently knowledgeable about them.
LEOs also tend to favor new systems that have characteristics similar to what they
have been using — for example, lever machine users tend to favor DREs. LEOs trust
the voting system vendors they work with but do not believe that those vendors are
very influential in decisions about acquiring new voting systems.
LEOs consider themselves knowledgeable about and familiar with HAVA.
They support individual provisions of the act, most strongly for federal funding and
least strongly for provisional balloting. To some extent, provisions rated more
difficult to implement receive less support. Most LEOs believe that HAVA has
resulted in some improvement in elections in their jurisdictions. Those rating HAVA
higher overall tend to be younger, more comfortable with technology, and more
familiar with the act. The areas for improvement of HAVA most commonly listed
are federal funding and the requirements for registration, voter identification, and
provisional balloting.

Who Are Local Election Officials?....................................1
The demographic characteristics of LEOs are unusual for a
group of government officials............................2
Perceptions and Attitudes about Voting Systems.........................2
About half of jurisdictions with optical scan systems use precinct
count ................................................3
LEOs are highly satisfied with whatever voting systems they are
using now............................................3
Most jurisdictions acquiring new voting systems choose those
that help voters avoid errors..............................4
LEOs tend to choose new voting systems with similar characteristics
to what they use at present...............................5
LEOs have more concerns about the security and performance of
voting systems they are not using themselves................5
DRE users do not support the use of voter-verifiable paper audit
trails (VVPAT), but nonusers do..........................6
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA): Impacts and Attitudes...............7
Most LEOs consider themselves familiar with and knowledgeable
about HAVA.........................................8
Most LEOs support HAVA provisions.........................8
LEOs believe that HAVA is making some improvements in the
electoral process......................................10
The Role of Voting System Vendors..................................10
LEOs trust and have confidence in the voting system vendors
they work with.......................................10
LEOs do not believe that vendors are very influential in decisions
about acquiring new voting systems......................10
Possible Caveats..................................................11
Potential Policy Implications........................................12
Election Officials.........................................12
Voting Systems..........................................12
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA).........................13
Research Needs..........................................13
List of Figures
Figure 1. Support for Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT) among
Local Election Officials Who Use DREs and Other Voting Systems......6

Table 1. Importance of Different Factors in the Recent and Planned
Acquisition of New Voting Systems by Local Election Jurisdictions......7
Table 2. Ratings of Individual HAVA Provisions as Advantage or
Disadvantage .................................................9

What Do Local Election Officials Think about
Election Reform?: Results of a Survey
U.S. elections are highly decentralized, with much of the responsibility for
election administration residing with local election officials (LEOs). There are
thousands of such officials, many of whom are responsible for all aspects of election
administration in their local jurisdictions — including voter registration, recruiting
pollworkers, running each election, and choosing and purchasing new voting
systems. These officials are therefore critical to the successful implementation of
state and federal election laws, including the Help America Vote Act of 2002
(HAVA, P.L. 107-252). Nevertheless, there has been little objective information on
the perceptions and attitudes of LEOs about election reform. This report discusses
the results of a scientific opinion survey of principal local election officials1 that was
designed to help fill that gap in knowledge.2 The findings may be useful to Congress
as it considers funding and possible reauthorization of HAVA.
Who Are Local Election Officials?
There are more than 9,000 local election jurisdictions in the United States.3 In
most states, they are counties or major cities, but in some New England and Upper
Midwest states, they are small townships — for example, more than 1,800 townships
in Wisconsin.4 Given that diversity and other differences among states — such as
wealth, population, and the role of state election officials — responsibilities and
characteristics of LEOs are likely to vary among the states. Nevertheless, some
patterns emerged from the survey.

1 The survey was aimed at officials with primary responsibility for elections within a local
jurisdiction — for example, a town clerk or county election director.
2 The survey was performed pursuant to a project sponsored by CRS and performed by
faculty and students at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas
A&M University. It was conducted after the November 2004 federal election, between
December 2004 and March 2005, and consists of responses from more than 1,500 LEOs
from all 50 states (privacy requirements prevented the inclusion of the District of Columbia,
which has only one election official). Methodological details are described in the full
report. Congressional offices may obtain a copy from CRS. Further information on the
survey is also available through the Bush School.
3 Source: Election Reform Information Project, [http://www.electionline.org].
4 To avoid overweighting the results of the survey toward states with many LEOs, the
maximum sample for any given state was limited to 150.

The demographic characteristics of LEOs are unusual for a group
of government officials. According to the survey results, the typical LEO is a
white woman between 50 and 60 years old who is a high school graduate. She was
elected to her current office, works full-time in election administration, has been in
the profession for about 10 years, and earns under $50,000 per year. She belongs to
a state-level professional organization but not a national one, and she believes that
her training as an election official has been good to excellent.
As with any such description, the one above does not capture the diversity
within the community surveyed. About one-quarter of LEOs are men, about 5%
belong to minority groups, 40% are college graduates, and 8% have graduate degrees.
They range from 24 to 89 years of age, and have served from 1 to 50 years. About
one-third were appointed rather than elected to their posts. Reported salaries range
from under $10,000 to more than $120,000. About one-third belong to regional,
national, or international professional organizations.
The demographic profile of LEOs is unusual, especially for a professional
group. While it is possible that some of the above results were statistical artifacts,
it is likely that overall they reflect the demographic characteristics of LEOs in
general. If so, those characteristics appear to differ from those of other local
government employees. For example, according to U.S. Census figures, while
women comprise a higher proportion of the local government workforce than men5
overall, men comprise a higher proportion of local government general and
administrative managers.6 About 20% of those managers belong to minorities.7
The causes of those differences are not apparent. The patterns do not appear to
be a result of the fact that most LEOs are elected, as the demographic characteristics
of legislators appear to be largely similar to those for local government managers.8
Potential policy implications of the demographic characteristics of LEOs are
discussed later in this report.
Perceptions and Attitudes about Voting Systems
The kinds of voting systems used in the United States have been changing over
the past 20 years. In particular, the computerization of voting has climbed
dramatically during that period. Increasingly, jurisdictions have turned to computer-
assisted voting systems — especially optical scan and direct recording electronic
(DRE) systems. In 1980, fewer than one-quarter of jurisdictions used computer-
assisted systems, with under 5% using optical scan and DRE systems. In contrast,
more than 75% used computer-assisted systems in 2004, with more than half of those

5 Women make up about 60% of that workforce: see U.S. Census Bureau, “2000
Supplementary Survey Summary Table P068,” available at [http://factfinder.census.gov].
6 About 53% of the managers are men: see U.S. Census Bureau, “Census 2000 EEO Data
Tool,” available at [http://www.census.gov/eeo2000/index.html].
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.

using optical scan.9 Over that 20-year span, the most dramatic changes have been the
seven-fold increase in the use of optical scan by jurisdictions, from about 7% in 1990
to more than 45% in 2004, and the doubling in DRE use between the 2000 and 2004
elections, from 10% to 20%. The number of jurisdictions using punchcards, lever
machines, and hand-counted paper ballots was declining even before the enactment
of HAVA. Use of these systems fell by more than half between 1990, when they
were used by more than 80% of jurisdictions, and 2004, with about 30% usage. The
major alternative voting systems in use at present are therefore optical scan and DRE.
About half of jurisdictions with optical scan systems use precinct10
count. In general, the survey results reflect the patterns found in other studies.
However, those studies, unlike the survey, did not distinguish between central-count
and precinct-count systems. The distinction may be important from a policy
perspective because for optical scan voting systems, only the precinct-count version
provides for detection of improperly marked ballots by machine before the ballot is
cast, allowing voters to correct mistakes such as overvotes (this is often called
second-chance voting). Central-count systems rely entirely on visual inspection by
the voter to detect errors. About half (49.9%) of the jurisdictions surveyed use11
optical scan voting systems. Of those, 44.9% are central-count systems. HAVA
promotes but does not require the use of voting machines that detect errors.12
LEOs are highly satisfied with whatever voting systems they are
using now. Most LEOs (more than 85% altogether) reported that they are highly
satisfied with their current voting systems and that the systems performed very well
during the November 2004 election (more than 90%). There was little variation in
the degree of satisfaction with different kinds of voting systems, but the differences
are illuminating:
!The most highly rated systems were precinct-count optical scan and
DREs, which are the most compatible of current systems with the
goals and requirements of HAVA. Ratings for these systems were
not significantly different from each other.

9 Election Data Services, “New Study Shows 50 Million Voters Will Use Electronic Voting
Systems, 32 Million Still with Punch Cards in 2004,” Press Release, 12 February 2004; ——
— , “Voting Equipment Summary By Type as of: 11/02/2004,” Table, 5 August 2005; both
available at [http://www.electiondataservices.com].
10 Ibid., and data from the Election Reform Information Project.
11 This includes Oregon, with its mail-in voting system, and jurisdictions in states such as
Washington, where more than half of balloting is by mail.
12 Sec. 301(a)(1) of HAVA requires that voting systems, with some exceptions, notify
voters of overvotes and permit them to verify and correct their votes before casting the
ballot. This is sometimes called “second-chance voting.” The exceptions are for
punchcards, hand-counted paper ballots, and central-count systems, for which voter
education and instruction about preventing and correcting errors is sufficient to meet the
requirement. The net effect is that all precinct-count systems except punchcards are
required to provide for second-chance voting. Currently, those systems include lever
machines, DREs, and precinct-count optical scan.

!Both precinct-count optical scan and DRE systems were rated
significantly higher than lever machines, hand-counted paper
systems, and central-count optical scan with respect to overall
!There were no significant differences in the performance ratings of
different systems for the November 2004 election, except between
DREs, which were rated highest, and central-count optical scan,
which was rated lowest.13
While generally satisfied with their current systems, LEOs also indicated areas
where improvements are needed. In rating a set of desired qualities of voting systems
and the degree to which their current voting system has those characteristics, the four
features rated highest for both the current and desired system were
!accuracy in counting,
! reliability,
!security, and
!ease of use by voters.
Current systems were rated lowest in comparison to desired features for
!prevention of voter errors,
!ease of use by persons with disabilities, and
!machine error.
Two features were rated higher as characteristics of the current voting system than
they were in desirability:
!speed in vote counting, and
!cost of acquisition.
The characteristics rated lowest for both current and desired systems were
!impact on different socioeconomic groups, and
!alternative-language capability.
Not surprisingly, users of DREs and precinct-count optical scan systems rated
them higher for prevention of voter error than users of other systems rated theirs.
DRE users also rated their systems higher than users of other systems did theirs for
ease of use by disabled persons and for multiple-language use.
Most jurisdictions acquiring new voting systems choose those that
help voters avoid errors. The length of time that jurisdictions reported using
their current voting systems varied widely, from one year or less to more than 200

13 Results are based on single-factor ANOVA and post-hoc 2-tailed Student’s t-tests at
p<.05. Even though DREs were rated significantly higher than central-count optical scan,
the differences were small, with most LEOs rating their systems as performing extremely
well (more than half for central-count optical scan systems and about two-thirds for DREs).

years. The average is 12 years.14 About one in six jurisdictions reported that they
had acquired a new voting system since 2000, and half of those obtained DREs,
which prevent overvotes and can help voters minimize unintentional undervoting.
The remainder chose optical-scan systems, and more than three-quarters of those
acquired precinct-count versions. About 40% of respondents indicated that they are
likely to replace their current voting system within the next five years, with similar
proportions as above expecting to choose DREs, precinct-count, and central-count
optical scan systems. Overall, 85% of recently acquired or planned voting systems
assist voters in preventing or detecting many ballot-marking errors.
LEOs tend to choose new voting systems with similar
characteristics to what they use at present. LEOs might be expected to
choose new voting systems that behave in a similar manner to those they have been
using. In particular, jurisdictions replacing punch-card and hand-counted paper
systems might be more likely to choose optical scan, which is also paper-based.
Those replacing lever machines might be expected to choose DREs, since neither
system uses paper ballots. The survey results support that hypothesis: Lever
machine users are four times more likely to switch to DREs than to optical scan.
Lever machine users who switch to optical scan systems are five times more likely
to choose precinct-count than central-count, which might be expected, as lever
machines are also precinct-count systems. Users of punchcards are more likely to
switch to optical scan systems than to DREs and are more likely to choose precinct-
count than central-count. The results for LEOs using hand-counted paper systems
are not conclusive but suggest a preference for optical scan over DRE systems.
LEOs have more concerns about the security and performance of
voting systems they are not using themselves. While LEOs tend to be very
satisfied with the systems that they are using, they have more reservations about other
kinds. Average support for other systems was substantially less than that for the
system in use. Punchcards, lever machines, and hand-counted paper ballots all
received negative average ratings from those LEOs not using those systems. DREs
and the two types of optical scan received positive ratings on average, with precinct-
count rated the highest. Central-count optical scan was rated a bit higher than DREs,
which is perhaps surprising given the finding discussed above that most jurisdictions
planning to obtain new systems expect to adopt either DREs or precinct-count optical
This issue was also examined more specifically for DREs and optical scan users.
DRE users rated their systems higher than non-DRE users in all specific performance
categories tested — including security, reliability, usability, and cost — except for
multiple-language capability. The same patterns held in comparisons of optical-scan
users and nonusers.15 The reasons why nonusers rated alternative-language capability
higher than users is not clear.

14 The distribution was highly skewed, so the average reported here is the median. The
mean was 26 years.
15 This analysis did not distinguish between precinct- and central-count users.

DRE users do not support the use of voter-verifiable paper audit
trails (VVPAT), but nonusers do. One of the most striking differences between
users and nonusers of DREs is in their attitudes toward the proposal that DREs be
required to produce paper ballots on which voters can verify their choices before the
ballot is cast (Fig. 1) — a system also called voter-verifiable paper audit trail
(VVPAT).16 Most DRE users (70%) do not support the use of VVPAT and most do
not plan to add them to their voting systems, whereas about 70% of LEOs not using
DREs do support VVPAT. DRE users opposing VVPAT most commonly cited risk
to voter privacy, printer reliability, and cost as the reasons. While lack of utility was
not listed as an option, it was written in by 9% of those respondents. However, even
those respondents (DRE users and nonusers) who expressed support for VVPAT
were generally willing (65%) to spend only $300 or less for the feature.
Figure 1. Support for Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT)
among Local Election Officials Who Use DREs and Other Voting

40 LE
ofDRE users
30geNon-DRE Users
St rongly 23 456Strongly
DREs Should Have VVPAT
Source: Texas A&M University, in coordination with the Congressional Research Service.
Both DRE and optical scan users do not generally believe that their voting
system software is vulnerable to attack by viruses or hackers. They also believe that
current state and federal certification procedures for software and hardware are
adequate and that any security concerns with their systems can be adequately
addressed by good security procedures. For both systems, nonusers are less confident
in security and certification and more concerned about software vulnerability.
However, they had greater concerns about the vulnerability of DREs than optical scan
16 This is sometimes also called contemporaneous paper record (CPR) or voter-verified
paper ballot (VVPB).

Table 1. Importance of Different Factors in the Recent and
Planned Acquisition of New Voting Systems by Local Election
State requirements1010
HAVA requirements910
HighHAVA funding910
State funding910
Local requirements56
Concern about age or condition of former system55
Publicity from the Florida 2000 election55
Concern about speed of former system54
Concern about reliability of former system33
Media or public pressure to change system24
Concern about costs of former system23
LowConcern about accuracy of former system22
Perception of a success or failure in a nearby14
Note: Respondents were asked to rate the importance of each factor from 0 (not at all important) to
10 (extremely important). Recent systems are those acquired within the last three years. Planned
systems are those expected to be acquired within five years. The number reported is the median
Source: Texas A&M University, in coordination with the Congressional Research Service.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA): Impacts and
HAVA requirements and funding have been a major factor in the adoption of
new voting systems by LEOs. Among the 17% of jurisdictions reporting that they
acquired voting systems since 2000, about half reported receiving federal funding for
that purpose, with about one-third reporting that most of the funding was from
federal sources. About 40% of respondents expect to acquire new systems within the
next five years. HAVA and state requirements and funding were listed as the most

important factors in those decisions (Table 1).17 Concerns about the accuracy or cost
of the previous or current systems were among the least important factors. Most
respondents who plan to replace their current systems expect to change all voting
machines in the jurisdiction, but 42% anticipate acquiring one new system per
precinct to meet HAVA accessibility requirements.18
Most LEOs consider themselves familiar with and knowledgeable
about HAVA. The requirements and other provisions of HAVA have substantial
impacts on local jurisdictions, and some requirements, such as provisional balloting,
are aimed directly at local officials. It would therefore be expected that most local
election officials would be familiar with HAVA provisions, and that is in fact the
case. Only 10% of LEOs reported a lack of familiarity with the act, and more than
half consider themselves to be very familiar with its requirements.
Most LEOs support HAVA provisions. When asked about the specific
provisions of HAVA, LEOs on average rated each of them positively (Table 2), with
the highest support given to the provision of federal funding and the lowest to the
provisional voting requirement. However, even with respect to federal funding, there
were complaints, many relating to a perceived slowness in distribution of funds.
LEOs were also concerned that federal requirements would lead to higher operating
costs that local jurisdictions would not be able to afford.
The results suggest that support is associated to some degree with ease of
implementation, although none of the provisions was rated especially difficult or
especially easy to implement on average. For example, the two provisions requiring
implementation that received the highest levels of support — facilitating participation
for military or overseas voters, and provision of information for voters — were also
rated as the easiest to implement, and provisional voting was considered the second
most difficult. However, the disability access requirement received a substantially
higher level of support than the identification requirement for certain first-time
voters, even though the former was considered the most difficult to implement while
the latter was among the least difficult. A common remark about the disability
requirement was the perception that it is unnecessary or onerous for jurisdictions with
small populations. This argument was also made before HAVA was enacted.
Proponents of the accessibility provision counter that the mobility of U.S. society and
the presence of “hidden” disabled persons, as well as other factors, make the uniform
application of this provision necessary.
The creation of the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which has
been somewhat controversial, was seen as an advantage by most LEOs, with only one
in seven seeing it as a disadvantage. During the debate on HAVA, some observers
argued that the EAC should be permanent, and others that it should exist only until

17 It is possible that the influence of state requirements per se is somewhat less than it
appears from the results, since HAVA requirements are generally administered through state
election officials.
18 Sec. 301(a)(3) of HAVA requires that jurisdictions provide accessible voting for persons
with disabilities “…through the use of at least one direct recording electronic voting system
or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities at each polling place.”

all requirements payments authorized in the act are distributed. In February 2005, the
National Association of Secretaries of State took the position that the EAC should
be temporary, although that position was tempered in subsequent statements.
Provisional voting received the highest percentage of negative assessments, with
35% of respondents considering it a disadvantage, and 48% an advantage. It was the
only category for which responses were strongly polarized, with many LEOs rating
it a strong advantage and almost as many a strong disadvantage. It was not possible
to determine for this report what factors might account for the polarized response.
Table 2. Ratings of Individual HAVA Provisions as Advantage or
Percentage Rating Provision as
Disadvantage Neutral Advantage
Provision of federal funds to states4690
Facilitating participation for military or71183
overseas voters
Provision for information for voters51679
Requirements for voter-error correction81378
Process for certification of voting71578
Requirements for disabled access to111375
voting systems
Codification of voting system standards81974
in law
State matching requirement for federal131473
Requirements for centralized voter141671
Identification requirements for certain171568
first-time voters
Creation of the Election Assistance152363
Requirement for provisional voting351648
Note: Respondents were asked to rate each provision on a scale of 1 (disadvantage) to 7 (advantage).
The disadvantage column lists the percentage who rated a provision at 1, 2, or 3; the neutral column
the percentage who chose 4; and the advantage column those who chose 5, 6, or 7.
Source: Texas A&M University, in coordination with the Congressional Research Service.

LEOs believe that HAVA is making some improvements in the
electoral process. The survey asked LEOs to rate the degree to which HAVA has
resulted in improvements in elections in their jurisdictions — from no improvement
to major improvement. Only 12% of LEOs responded that it led to no improvement,
but only 7% responded that it led to major improvement. The average response was
halfway between those two extremes. A comparison of how LEOs rated HAVA
overall with other characteristics of the officials suggests that younger officials who
are comfortable with technology and familiar with HAVA tended to be supportive
of the legislation. Not surprisingly, those who believe that there is too much federal
involvement in the election process tended to be less supportive. Less obvious was
the finding that college-educated LEOs also tended to be less supportive, although
the effect was smaller than for the other factors. About 23% of respondents provided
suggestions for improving HAVA. The three most common areas for improvement
listed were federal funding, registration and voter identification, and provisional
The Role of Voting System Vendors
There has been some debate and uncertainty about the role and influence of
voting system manufacturers and vendors in the selection of voting systems by local
jurisdictions. Some observers have argued that vendors have undue influence in
what voting systems jurisdictions choose. Others believe that such concerns are
unwarranted. But little has been known of how LEOs view vendors and their
relationships with them. The results of the survey were mixed with respect to the
importance of vendors. LEOs appear to have high trust and confidence in them but
do not rate them as being especially influential with respect to decisions about voting
LEOs trust and have confidence in the voting system vendors they
work with. Most jurisdictions using computer-assisted voting reported that they
had interacted with their voting-system vendors within the last four years.19 More
than 90% of LEOs considered their voting system vendors responsive and the quality
of their goods and services to be high. They felt equally strongly that the
recommendations of those vendors can be trusted. However, about a fifth of
respondents thought that vendors are willing to sacrifice security for greater profit,
although 60% disagreed. Also, a quarter felt that vendors provide too many aspects
of election administration.
LEOs do not believe that vendors are very influential in decisions
about acquiring new voting systems. When LEOs were asked what sources
of information they relied on with respect to voting systems, state election officials
received the highest average rating, with about three-quarters of LEOs indicating that
they rely on state officials a great deal. Next most important were other election
officials, followed by the EAC and advocates for the disabled. About one-third
stated that they rely on vendors a great deal, a level similar to that for professional

19 Not surprisingly, the lowest interaction (13% of LEOs) was in paper-ballot jurisdictions,
and the highest was in optical scan and DRE jurisdictions (about 85%).

associations. Only 2% rated vendors higher than any other source, whereas 20%
rated state officials highest. Interest groups were rated lower than vendors, and
political parties and media received the lowest ratings.
When LEOs were asked about the influence of different actors on decisions
about voting systems, the overall pattern of response was similar to that for
information sources. Once again, state, local, and federal officials were judged the
most influential,20 and political parties and the media the least, with vendors in
between. An exception was that local nonelected officials were considered less
influential on average than vendors. Both voters and advocates for the disabled were
rated as more influential on average than vendors. No LEOs rated vendors as more
influential than any other source. In contrast, 12% listed themselves as the most
influential. About two-thirds of LEOs believe that local elected officials should have
more influence, about one-third that state elected officials should, and about half
believe that the federal government has too much influence.
Fewer than 10% of LEOs believe that there is insufficient oversight of vendors
by the federal government and states, but about one in six believe that local
governments do not exercise enough oversight. About half of LEOs believe that the
federal government exercises too much oversight of vendors, about a third believe
that states do, and about one in six that local governments do.
Possible Caveats
As with any survey, care needs to be taken in drawing inferences from the
results discussed above. One question that could arise is whether the sample is
representative of LEOs as a whole. Steps were taken in the design of the study to
minimize the risk that the sample would not be representative. For example, simply
drawing the sample at random from the nationwide pool of election administrators
would have resulted in a disproportionately large number of jurisdictions from New
England and the upper Midwest, where elections are administered by townships
rather than counties.21 To prevent such regional overrepresentation in the sample, no
more than 150 officials were chosen to be surveyed from each state. For states with
fewer than 150 election jurisdictions, all were included in the sample; for other states,
150 LEOs were chosen at random to be included in the sample. Overall, neither the
sample design nor the characteristics of the responses suggest that the results are22

unrepresentative of the views and characteristics of local election officials.
20 For this question, LEOs were also asked to rate their own influence, which received the
highest average score. The question also asked about the influence of some other actors,
such as courts and voters, and it listed elected and nonelected state and local officials but
not election officials specifically except the respondents themselves and the EAC.
21 For example, Maine ranks 37th among states in population, with 1.3 million residents, but
it ranks 4th in the number of election jurisdictions, with 518.
22 A contemporaneous survey of state election officials did not have a sufficiently high
response rate to produce a statistically valid sample and is therefore not discussed in this

Another potential caution for interpretation relates to the inherent limits of
surveys such as this one. In particular, there is no way to guarantee that the responses
of the election officials correspond to their actual beliefs. In addition, there is no way
to be certain that any particular belief corresponds to reality. The question of vendor
influence provides an illustration of the possibility for disparity. For several reasons,
LEOs might be reluctant to rate vendors as having the level of influence on decisions
about voting systems that they actually believe is the case. Alternatively, they might
believe that vendors have only modest influence whereas in fact the influence is
much greater. The possibility of a disparity is raised in this case because LEOs
indicated a very high level of trust and confidence in vendors but indicated that their
influence was comparatively minor.
A final caution involves how survey results might be used to inform policy
decisions. On the one hand, the results could be used to support the shaping of policy
in directions expressed by LEOs in their responses. In many cases, such policy
changes might be appropriate. On the other hand, it is possible that at least some of
those desired changes would not in fact yield the most effective or appropriate
policies. In such cases, the results might more constructively be used to help
policymakers identify issues for which improvements in communication and
understanding are needed.
Potential Policy Implications
The survey results may have policy implications for several issues at the federal,
state, and local levels of government. Some issues that may be relevant for
congressional deliberations are highlighted below.
Election Officials. Many observers have commented favorably on the
experience and dedication of the nation’s local election officials. Survey results are
consistent with that view. At the same time, other observers, including some election
officials, have called for increased professionalism in election administration. Some
survey results suggest areas of potential professional improvement, such as in
education and in professional involvement at the national level. Congress could
address this potential need by means such as facilitating educational and training
programs for LEOs and promoting professional certification of election officials by
entities accredited through the EAC.
The seemingly unique demographic characteristics of LEOs as a group of
government officials may have other policy implications, but they are not altogether
clear. However, some observers may argue that efforts should be undertaken to
ensure that LEOs reflect the diversity of the workforce or voting population as a
whole, especially with respect to minority representation.
Voting Systems. Since the enactment of HAVA, controversy has arisen over
whether DRE voting systems are sufficiently secure and reliable. The survey

22 (...continued)

revealed that LEOs who have experience with DREs are very confident in them and
do not generally support the addition of a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT)
to address security concerns. However, LEOs using other systems are much less
confident in DREs and more supportive of VVPAT. The strongly dichotomous
results suggest that as Congress considers whether to require the use of VVPAT or
similar security mechanisms, it might be useful to determine whether DRE users are
overconfident in the security of their systems or, alternatively, whether nonusers need
to be better educated about the reliability and security of DRE systems.23
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The survey results suggest that
HAVA is in the process of achieving several of its policy goals. The general support
of HAVA provisions — including those such as the creation of the EAC and the
provisional ballot requirement that have been somewhat controversial — implies that
LEOs are in agreement with the goals of the act and are active partners in its
implementation. The overwhelming choice of new voting systems that assist voters
in avoiding errors indicates that the HAVA goal of reducing avoidable voter error is
in the process of being met. The areas of concern expressed by LEOs — such as how
to meet the costs of ongoing implementation of HAVA requirements — raise issues
that Congress may wish to address as it considers HAVA appropriations and
reauthoriz ation.
The close relationship between LEOs and the vendors of their voting systems
seems unlikely to change as a result of HAVA. However, with the codification by
HAVA of the voting system standards and certification processes, the influence of
the federal government in decisions about new voting systems might be expected to
increase in relation to that of vendors and others. However, the influence of state
elected officials seems unlikely to decline, especially given the responsibilities that
HAVA places on state governments with respect to election administration.
Research Needs. Scientific opinion surveys of local election officials are
rare,24 and additional research may be useful to address some of the matters raised by
this study. For example, a survey of state election officials might provide useful
information and might additionally be helpful in assessing the most appropriate
federal role in promoting the effective implementation of HAVA goals at all levels
of government.

23 For in-depth discussion of the DRE security issue and proposals for resolving it, see CRS
Report RL32139, Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of
Security Issues, by Eric A. Fischer.
24 The Government Accountability Office surveyed a sample of about 600 LEOs nationwide
by mail and about 160 by telephone following the 2000 federal election (see Government
Accountability Office, Elections: Perspectives on Activities and Challenges Across the
Nation, GAO-02-3, October 2001). That survey focused largely on issues of election
management, such as the availability of poll workers and the processing of absentee ballots.
While results of the two surveys are not generally comparable because of differences in
focus and methodology, the GAO survey did find that a high percentage of local officials
expressed satisfaction with the performance of their existing voting systems, a finding
consistent with the results of the current survey.

One common suggestion of LEOs for improving HAVA was to provide a means
of adjusting requirements to fit the needs of smaller jurisdictions. To determine
what, if any, such adjustments would be appropriate, it may be useful to have specific
information on how the needs and characteristics of different jurisdictions vary with
size — something that was beyond the scope of this survey. It could also be useful
to identify how the duties of LEOs vary with size and other characteristics of the
jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, election administration is only part of the LEO’s
job. It is not known to what degree these other responsibilities might affect election
administration — negatively or positively.
Finally, this survey provided only one snapshot of LEO characteristics and
perceptions. It might be beneficial to perform similar surveys periodically to identify
trends and explore new questions and issues.