Publications

    Ensuring All All Votes Count: Reducing Rejected Ballots

    Jose Altamirano and Tova Wang, August 2022

    This brief studies trends in mail ballot rejection rates in 2020 compared to previous years and how different factors, including sets of policies and policy changes, the political environment, and voter outreach, may have contributed to these changes in an extraordinary election year. Our main findings include:

    Mail ballot rejection rates decreased in most states in 2020 compared to 2018, and a number of states saw a consistent drop from 2016 to 2018 to 2020.

    Certain states that adapted their voting laws to make mail voting more accessible in 2020, particularly in the South, saw especially pronounced changes in rejection rates.

    In North Carolina, rejection rates vary from county to county. Previous studies of other states’ rejection rates found similar trends.

    States that implemented mail ballot policies, including ballot curing, increased ease of access when returning mail ballots at boards of elections, early voting sites, drop boxes, and ballot tracking, saw lower rejection rates than those that didn’t, though we caution against assuming a causal relationship.

    Previous academic and advocacy research suggests that voters of color, young voters, and first-time voters are disproportionately more likely to have their mail ballots rejected.

    We highlight these trends and suggest further areas of study that researchers, advocates, organizers, and policymakers can explore to better understand how voters casting their ballots by mail can ensure their votes are counted.

    Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, State of Ohio: Innovations in American Government Award Case Study

    Colleen Crispino, January 2022 

    Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), Ohio’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency, is responsible for providing employment-related services to eligible individuals in Ohio to help them achieve their employment goals. Their program model, designed to improve employment outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities, addresses some of the barriers that exist for these populations. Since 2013, their Business Relations team has partnered with more than 500 employers statewide to match skilled candidates to available jobs. As part of this service, OOD provides no-cost solutions for employers, including improved worksite accessibility and accommodations and training on disability etiquette and awareness. These strategies have resulted in increased hiring of VR participants by employer partners.3

    As part of their innovative service system, OOD partners with large employers in the Columbus area to embed Ohio State VR staff in each employer’s human resources department to quickly match qualified candidates with disabilities to open positions. OOD first tested this approach with one major employer in 2017, leading to the hiring of 60 individuals with disabilities in the first three years. They later expanded the program to include an additional major employer, in a different industry, with similarly positive results.

    Pathways to Economic Advancement, Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Innovations in American Government Award Case Study

    Jeanne Batalova, January 2022 

    Adult English learners (ELs) are as likely to find jobs in the U.S. labor market as those who speak English fluently. There are significant differences, however, when it comes to salary, job quality, and professional opportunities. Today, more than 240,000 working-age adults are in need of English-language services in Greater Boston, with most seeking to improve their English fluency to find a job or get pro- moted. Despite this need, only 11,600 adults receive English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services each year. As a result, adult ELs are often limited in their ability to contribute to local and state economies in terms of taxes and consumer spending.

    Developed by Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) in Boston, the Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement (Pathways) program started with a fundamental question: Given the high unmet demand for vocational and workplace English, how do we effectively scale up a proven workforce-oriented model of teaching adults English for employment. Through its four program tracks and an innovating fund- ing model (Pay for Success), Pathways offers a continuum of work-related ESOL services coupled with individualized job coaching and job placement.

    Rapoport, Miles. 2021. “Testimony in Support of H 788, An Act Making Voting Obligatory and Increasing Turnout in Elections.” Joint Committee on Election Laws, General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Read the Full Testimony Abstract

    Testimony in Support of H 788, An Act Making Voting Obligatory and Increasing Turnout in Elections given to the Joint Committee on Election Laws by Miles Rapoport, Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy at the Ash Center of the Harvard Kennedy School, October 20, 2021.

    View a Recording of the Testimony 

    The testimony begins at the 17:43 minute mark. 

    Understanding the Role of Local Election Officials: How Local Autonomy Shapes U.S. Election Administration

    Hannah Furstenberg-Beckman, Greg Degen, and Tova Wang; September 2021 

    This policy brief will examine the independence and discretionary powers of local election officials and offer a framework to better understand local autonomy in our electoral system. It will also describe the larger system within which the local election official operates and demonstrate how local power and voter-focused decision-making varies across the country. The brief will use illustrative examples of the exercise of autonomy by local election officials from past elections as well as examples of shifts in local discretionary powers from the recent wave of state legislative efforts that seek to restrict autonomy.

    It will also address the implications of local autonomy for those with an interest in increasing voter access and promoting voter participation. This brief can be a resource for those seeking a better understanding of the possible levers of change in their own state or locality’s electoral system.

    Toward a Smarter Future: Building Back Better with Intelligent Civil Infrastructure -- Smart Sensors and Self-Monitoring Civil Works

    Stephen Goldsmith, Betsy Gardner, and Jill Jamieson; September 2021 

     

    The United States needs to build better infrastructure. The current repairs and replacements are disorganized and patchwork, resulting in unsafe, costly, and inequitable roads, bridges, dams, sidewalks, and water systems. A strategic, smart infrastructure plan that integrates digital technology, sensors, and data not only addresses these issues but can mitigate risks and even improve the conditions and structures that shape our daily lives.

     

    By applying data analysis to intelligent infrastructure, which integrates digital technology and smart sensors, we can identify issues with the country’s roadways, buildings, and bridges before they become acute dangers. First, by identifying infrastructure weaknesses, smart infrastructure systems can address decades of deferred maintenance, a practice that has left many structures in perilous conditions. Sensors in pavement, bridges, vehicles, and sewer systems can target where these problems exist, allowing governments to allocate funding toward the neediest projects.

    From there, these sensors and other smart technologies will alert leaders to changes or issues before they pose a danger—and often before a human inspector can even see them. The many infrastructure emergencies in the U.S. cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year, so identifying and fixing these issues is a pressing security issue. Further, as the changing climate leads to more extreme weather and natural disasters, the safety and resiliency of the country’s infrastructure is an immediate concern. Sensor systems and other intelligent infrastructure technology can identify and mitigate these problems, saving money and lives.

    In addition, intelligent infrastructure can be layered onto existing infrastructure to address public health concerns, like monitoring sewer water for COVID-19 and other pathogens or installing smart sensors along dangerous interstates to automatically lower speed limits and reduce accidents. It can also be used to improve materials, like concrete, to reduce the carbon footprint of a project, ultimately contributing to better health and environmental outcomes.

    Finally, addressing inequities is a major reason to utilize intelligent infrastructure. Research shows that people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more pollutants, toxic chemicals, and physical danger through excess car emissions, aging water pipes, and poor road conditions. The implementation and funding of these intelligent infrastructure projects must consider where—and to whom—harm has traditionally been done and how building back better can measurably improve the quality of life in marginalized and vulnerable communities.

    While there are challenges to implementing a sweeping intelligent infrastructure plan, including upfront costs and security concerns, all levels of government play a role in achieving a safer society. At the federal level, with infrastructure funding bills being debated at this moment, the government must look beyond roads and bridges and consider that intelligent infrastructure is a system: upheld, connected, and integrated by data. Through grants, incentives, and authorized funding, the federal government can effect monumental change that will improve how all residents experience their daily lives. At the state level, budgeting with intelligent infrastructure in mind will encourage innovative approaches to local infrastructure. And on a municipal level, cities and towns can invest in comprehensive asset management systems and training for local workers to best utilize the intelligent infrastructure data.