Launching the Center for Election Innovation & Research

September 2016 3 min read by David Becker

Thanks to the work of many of you advancing sound data-driven policies and technology, it has never been easier for almost all U.S. voters to register to vote, get election information, and cast their ballots successfully. Yet despite these improvements, voter turnout across the United States, particularly in non-presidential elections, has declined to historically low levels. To stop the downward spiral and increase voter turnout in all elections, a new approach is needed—one intended not to inflame partisan passions in a specific election, but rather connect more voters to the value of democratic participation. Identifying promising strategies will require a long-term strategic plan for new research, data and experimentation.

To address this problem, today Amy Cohen and I are proud to launch the Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR), a non-profit that marks a new phase of our work to improve the efficiency and integrity of elections in partnership with dedicated election officials from both parties at the state and local level, as well as researchers and experts in the field.

In our combined decades of work in elections, we’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with the tight-knit community of election professionals to achieve some amazing things:

  • Seeing the number of states offering online voter registration jump from two states in 2008 to 32 states and the District of Columbia as of today;
  • Building the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) and helping it grow from seven states in 2012 to more than 20 states—identifying more than four million inaccurate voter records and registering nearly one million new voters as a result of their membership;
  • Helping several states automate the way their motor vehicle systems handle voter registration transactions, reducing paper and increasing efficiencies; and,
  • Partnering with technology companies like Google and Facebook to put polling place and ballot information online, where it was accessed more than 31 million times in November 2014 alone and millions of times during the 2016 primaries.

As a result of our teamwork and relationships with state and local election officials, academics, technology companies and civic tech organizations, elections today are as secure, efficient, and convenient for voters as they have ever been. But our work is not done, and we want to ensure these efforts continue.

During the coming months and years, CEIR will add staff and capacity to build on our previous successes to allow us to be a technical and practical resource for state and local election officials across the country. To drive an even more ambitious set of goals to improve our democracy, our team will focus on the following areas:

  • Voter Registration – We will work with states and researchers to bring voter registration further into the 21st century, moving closer to our shared goal of ensuring that all eligible voters who wish to be registered are on the rolls with accurate, up-to-date information. We will work closely with ERIC and encourage states to join, while also helping election officials ensure that their data and processes integrate fully and easily with other state agencies.
  • Educating Voters – We will work to ensure all voters can easily find basic information about the voting process, including polling place and early vote locations and hours, and comprehensive ballot information.
  • New Research – We will be responsive to the field and conduct non-partisan, methodologically sound research in new areas as they arise. Whether it’s studying the impact of e-pollbooks, convenience voting options, other new technologies and policies, or providing momentum behind efforts to create a common data format for all elections data, we look to build a research base that helps those who run elections.

And perhaps most importantly, we will work to reverse the downward trend in Voter Turnout. During the next several years, through comprehensive survey research and a subsequent series of controlled experiments, we seek to identify messages and modes of contact, replicable for any interested organization, that can help increase the frequency of voting for sporadic voters and turn non-voters into active participants. And because of our commitment to a non-partisan, broad-based effort, we will partner with state and local government officials from both parties to achieve these goals, moving the needle on turnout in all elections.

Our agenda is ambitious, but we know from talking with you all that our democracy needs such a continued effort. To those who have been so positive in response to our plans, we cannot thank you enough. Your encouragement has touched both Amy and I, and we’re as energized as ever to support the important work you do: ensuring that American elections are secure and efficient, and that every eligible American voter can cast a ballot effectively.

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