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Research Development Seminar Series: Caroline Tolbert

March 1, 2023
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
008 Public Policy Research Building

This event has been rescheduled, due to the weather, to Wednesday, March 1.

Benchmarking Local Election Performance: New Measures of County Election Administration & Racial Group Voter Turnout

Prevalent issues throughout American history, and indeed over the past several general election cycles, have related to voter access to the ballot box. The generally accepted finding is that better administration of elections, proxied by MIT's Election Performance Index for U.S. states, is related to higher individual level voter turnout and lower inequality across racial groups. But state level patterns may mask important local variation across the nation's 3100 U.S. counties. Little research has explored local election administration quality nationwide because of a lack of available data. Local election administration is largely funded by local governments (not by states or the federal government). More affluent communities can afford more polling places, better trained poll workers, better voting equipment, etc. This topic matters because just under 1/3 of the U.S. population questions whether President Biden is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.

The main contributions of this study, co-authored by Michael Ritter of Washington State University and UI graduate student Samuel Harper, are (1) to introduce and examine a new measure of county-level election administration performance, and (2) to re-evaluate how election administration impacts voter turnout equality by racial groups using this new measure. To what degree are different racial and ethnic groups more likely to participate in politics (i.e., vote), given variation in how well local government run elections? The results, based on administrative data of 265 million U.S. adults (Catalist), find Black and Latino voting rates in 2020 were higher in counties with both increased minority population size and improved county election administration performance, controlling for other factors.

Caroline Tolbert is a distinguished research fellow in the PPC's Politics and Policy Research Program and professor in the Department of Political Science. She was named a Distinguished University Professor in 2020 and a Carnegie Foundation Fellow in 2021. Her research areas include inequality, elections and voter turnout, and digital media and public policy.

This talk is free and open to the public and will be available via Zoom. Lunch will be provided for those on-site!

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Dragana Petic at