New Paper Offers Experiment on Whether ‘Street-Level’ Elections Officials Discriminate


So much of the fair-election related news focuses on the big players – on state and federal Legislatures, on the Supreme Court and its decisions, and on high-profile public officials.

But a new paper offers a slightly different angle, asking: Do local elections workers – who the authors refer to as “street-level bureaucrats” discriminate against folks seeking constituent services.

The authors, Ariel R. White, Noah L. Nathan and Julie K. Faller, who are each PhD candidates at Harvard University, were determined to find out in a paper titles, “What Do I Need to Vote? Bureaucratic Discretion and Discrimination by Local Election Officials.”

The trio contacted more than 7,000 elections officials in 48 states – the people who are responsible for both implementing voter-ID laws and providing election-related information to voters.

What did they find? The entire paper can be purchased online, but here’s a teaser:

“We find that officials provide different information to potential voters of different putative ethnicities. Emails sent from Latino aliases are significantly less likely to receive any response from local election officials than non-Latino white aliases and receive responses of lower quality. This raises concerns about the effect of voter ID laws on access to the franchise and about bias in the provision of services by local bureaucrats more generally.”

For more white papers and election-related research of note, click here.

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