Election Officials: How Selection Methods Shape Their Policy Preferences and Affect Voter Turnout
42 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2010
Date Written: August 15, 2010
The method by which we select public officials can have a significant effect on their incentives, the constraints they face, and ultimately the policy goals they pursue. We explore this phenomenon using election administration as a case. We examine differences in the policy preferences among elected and appointed election officials, and explore the relationship between those attitudes and the administrative outcomes they may engender. We employ a uniquely rich dataset that includes the survey responses of over 1,200 Wisconsin election officials, structured interviews with dozens of these officials, and data from the 2008 presidential election. Drawing upon a natural experiment in how clerks are selected, we find that elected officials support policies that emphasize voter access rather than ballot security, and that their municipalities are associated with higher voter turnout. For appointed officials, we find that voter turnout in a municipality is noticeably lower when the local election official’s partisanship differs from the partisanship of the electorate. Overall, our results support the notion that selection methods, and the incentives that flow from those methods, matter a great deal. Elected officials are more likely to express attitudes and generate outcomes that reflect their direct exposure to voters, in contrast to the more insulated position of appointed officials.
Keywords: election administration, appointment, turnout, election
JEL Classification: D72, D73
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation