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.

    Strengthening Models of Civic Engagement: Community-Informed Approaches to Inclusive and Equitable Decision-Making

    Archon Fung, Hollie Russon Gilman, and Mark Schmitt; July 2022

    For too long the federal policymaking process has been mysterious and inaccessible to everyone but the most sophisticated, elite stakeholders. Not only has this made the policymaking process exclusive to long-standing players with connections and resources, but it has also made it extremely difficult for most Americans, especially those from underrepresented communities, to be engaged in authentic ways with federal agencies and institutions.

    The costs of such exclusion are evident: Federal policies created and implemented without meaningful input from local leaders and residents are less efficient, less effective, and more likely to perpetuate the very systems of injustice they are often designed to disrupt or reverse. In contrast, inclusive engagement demonstrably increases the efficacy and legitimacy of federal policy, triggering a virtuous cycle of feedback and trust between government and the people.

    When the Biden-Harris administration took office, one of their very first acts was to issue an executive order to advance equity and racial justice throughout federal agencies and institutions. This was quickly followed by orders intended to transform the experience of interacting with government, modernize the federal regulatory process, and strengthen tribal consultations and nation-to-nation relationships. Together, these efforts push the executive branch to improve equity and racial justice through more inclusive policy processes.

    Designing for Community Engagement: Toward More Equitable Civic Participation in the Federal Regulatory Process

    Archon Fung, Hollie Russon Gilman, and Mark Schmitt; December 2021 

    To understand the advantages of and challenges to a reformed regulatory review process, New America’s Political Reform program and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government convened a group of local community engagement experts, public sector leaders, and on-the-ground organizers to share their expertise in designing processes that support more inclusive engagement, in particular working with historically underserved communities.

    During this discussion with local community engagement experts, we sought to identify the process designs and other innovations that would empower residents to exercise meaningful influence over decisions about the formation, review, and implementation of regulations. Our discussion focused on extending community engagement processes to give grassroots groups and affected parties a voice in the federal regulatory process.

    These experts agreed that when engagement is designed intentionally, policymakers can work with communities more effectively to garner information and insights, implement programs or provide services, and build trusting relationships. Furthermore, while participation in and of itself is important, designing more effective engagement can also ensure that participants identify and harness opportunities to protect their interests and influence decision-making. And, most importantly, transparent and inclusive engagement practices can improve policy outcomes and strengthen equity.

    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. 

    Democratizing the Federal Regulatory Process: A Blueprint to Strengthen Equity, Dignity, and Civic Engagement through Executive Branch Action

    Archon Fung, Hollie Russon Gilman, and Mark Schmitt; September 2021 

    While legislation tends to get more attention, the regulatory process within the executive branch is at the core of day-to-day democratic governance. Federal regulation and rule-making engages dozens of agencies and affects every American. In writing the rules and regulations to implement laws, revise standards, and exercise the substantial authority granted to the presidency, the agencies of the federal government set directions, priorities, and boundaries for our collective life. At times, the regulatory process has moved the country in the direction of greater justice, equality, and security. At other times, it has pulled us in other directions, often with little public engagement or debate.

    The Biden-Harris administration acknowledged the centrality of the regulatory process with two actions on the President’s first day in office. The first called for modernizing the regulatory review process, particularly the central oversight role of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The second was an executive order calling on the federal government to support underserved communities and advance racial equity. To understand the challenges to and advantages of a reformed regulatory review process, New America’s Political Reform Program and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government convened a group of academic experts from across the country to share their findings on the state of regulatory review and to identify alternative measures of not just the cost of regulations, but also the distributional impact of their costs and benefits. These experts specialize in administrative law, economic analysis, public participation, and regulatory review, and their work covers policy areas including patent law, healthcare, and environmental justice.

    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.

    Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting
    Rapoport, Miles, E.J. Dionne, and et al. 2020. “Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Brookings Governance Program . Read the full report Abstract

    The Universal Voting Working Group, July 2020 

    Imagine an American democracy remade by its citizens in the very image of its promise, a society where the election system is designed to allow citizens to perform their most basic civic duty with ease. Imagine that all could vote without obstruction or suppression. Imagine Americans who now solemnly accept their responsibilities to sit on juries and to defend our country in a time of war taking their obligations to the work of self-government just as seriously. Imagine elections in which 80 percent or more of our people cast their ballots—broad participation in our great democratic undertaking by citizens of every race, heritage and class, by those with strongly-held ideological beliefs, and those with more moderate or less settled views. And imagine how all of this could instill confidence in our capacity for common action.

    This report is offered with these aspirations in mind and is rooted in the history of American movements to expand voting rights. Our purpose is to propose universal civic duty voting as an indispensable and transformative step toward full electoral participation. Our nation’s current crisis of governance has focused unprecedented public attention on intolerable inequities and demands that Americans think boldly and consider reforms that until now seemed beyond our reach.

    Union Impact on Voter Participation—And How to Expand It

    Tova Wang, May 2020

    Some politicians have enacted measures in recent years to make voting harder and to reduce participation among certain groups. Others have sought to counteract that voter suppression by implementing laws to make voting easier, such as same-day or automatic registration. There is another antidote to the effort to reduce participation: lifting up worker organizations. This is especially important to understand given the ways in which powerful individuals and groups have sought to weaken unions because of their political strength representing American workers.

    In this report, the author first explains efforts to weaken unions and the voice of working people; then what the decline of unions and union membership has meant for participation; next, Wang looks at the data showing the positive effects unions have on voter participation; and finally, she suggests how going forward we can reform the laws and how labor is structured such that it not only continues to facilitate voter participation, but even enhances it.

    Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?

    Alexander Keyssar, Harvard University Press, July 2020

    With every presidential election, Americans puzzle over the peculiar mechanism of the Electoral College. The author of the Pulitzer finalist The Right to Vote explains the enduring problem of this controversial institution.

    Every four years, millions of Americans wonder why they choose their presidents through the Electoral College, an arcane institution that permits the loser of the popular vote to become president and narrows campaigns to swing states. Most Americans have long preferred a national popular vote, and Congress has attempted on many occasions to alter or scuttle the Electoral College. Several of these efforts—one as recently as 1970—came very close to winning approval. Yet this controversial system remains.

    Science, Technology, & Democracy: Building a Modern Congressional Technology Assessment Office

    Zach Graves and Daniel Schuman, January 2020

    This paper offers recommendations and a road map for the future success of a restarted technology assessment office in Congress. We look at three potential approaches: (1) Building up the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s OTA-like capacity in its newly created Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team, and giving it greater resources and structural autonomy; (2) Reviving OTA but updating its procedures and statutory authority; and (3) A hybrid approach wherein both GAO and a new OTA develop different capacities and specializations. (Spoiler: we favor the third approach.)
     
    The next section of this paper reviews what OTA was and how it functioned. The third section discusses the history of and rationale for the defunding of OTA, other cuts to Congress’s S&T capacity, and why this congressional capacity and expertise matter for democracy. The fourth section reviews efforts to revive OTA and other efforts to build new congressional S&T capacity. The fifth section discusses the political landscape for building S&T capacity, including the legislative branch appropriations process and the different political constituencies for S&T. The final section offers a detailed discussion of various structural recommendations for a new congressional technology assessment office, including an expanded STAA unit in GAO, and a new OTA.
     
    Mathis, Colleen, Daniel Moskowitz, and Benjamin Schneer. 2019. “The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission: One State's Model for Reform”. Read full paper Abstract

    Colleen Mathis, Daniel Moskowitz, and Benjamin Schneer; September 2019 

    In most states, redistricting, the process by which electoral district boundaries are drawn, is an overtly partisan exercise controlled by state legislatures. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019 decision Rucho v. Common Cause held that federal courts cannot review allegations of partisan gerrymandering. Independent redistricting in practice has proven remarkably successful along several dimensions. This policy brief outlines key lessons learned from redistricting in Arizona, a state with a five-person independent redistricting commission.

    Civic Responsibility: The Power of Companies to Increase Voter Turnout

    Sofia Gross and Ashley Spillane, June 2019 

    This case study provides an analysis and evaluation of the implementation of civic participation programs by companies aimed at increasing voter turnout. The United States consistently lags behind the majority of developed democratic nations in voter turnout, averaging less than half of the eligible voter population participating in midterm elections. The U.S. ranks 26th out of 32 developed democracies in percentage of eligible voters who participate in elections. Today, many companies have dedicated resources for corporate social responsibility projects aimed at strengthening society and building goodwill among employees, consumers, and the public. Voter participation initiatives align with the goals of social responsibility projects, as they address a critical societal problem (lack of engagement), while building goodwill with key stakeholders. 

    Elena Fagotto, Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study takes a look at Breast Cancer Straight Talk Support, a closed Facebook community for women dealing with breast cancer and survivors. With hundreds of posts every day, the group is a safe space where women can vent about feeling scared, depressed, or lonely and receive support from women who “get them.” For many members, the group is a window into other women’s cancer journeys, which gives them perspective and a more proactive attitude to fight the disease. The community is also an important resource to ask questions on treatments, side effects, surgery and more.

    Elena Fagotto, Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study takes a look at IBD Partners, a research network connecting nearly 15,500 IBD patients with over 300 researchers. Patients can contribute their self-reported health data for research by filling out surveys on their health twice a year. This way, patient-generated data feeds into an extensive database that can be accessed by researchers to conduct longitudinal studies, to connect with patients for clinical trials and for prospective studies. Patients can also use the platform to suggest research questions and vote for the most interesting ideas, generating a truly patient-driven research agenda.

    Elena Fagotto, Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study details ImproveCareNow (ICN), a network of clinicians, medical centers, patients, families and researchers working together to improve the lives of children with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

    Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism
    Norris, Pippa, and Ronald Inglehart. 2019. Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism. Cambridge University Press. Visit Publisher's Site Abstract

    Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Cambridge University Press, February 2019

    Authoritarian populist parties have advanced in many countries, and entered government in states as diverse as Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. Even small parties can still shift the policy agenda, as demonstrated by UKIP's role in catalyzing Brexit. Drawing on new evidence, this book advances a general theory why the silent revolution in values triggered a backlash fuelling support for Authoritarian-Populist parties and leaders in the US and Europe. The conclusion highlights the dangers of this development and what could be done to mitigate the risks to liberal democracy.

    Legislative Negotiation Project, February 2019 

    This multimedia case, a product of the Legislative Negotion Project, focuses on the key decision points leading up to the unlikely passage in 2014 of the bipartisan Water for the World Act in the U.S. Congress. It features interviews with members of the House and the Senate, Congressional staffers, advocates and lobbyists. Through seven short videos to be played in class, faculty and students can explore the challenges of bipartisan negotiation in a highly polarized legislative environment, and of strategies to increase the chance for success when the only way to pass legislation is through bipartisanship.

    Legislative Negotiation Project, January 2019 

    This multimedia case, a product of the Legislative Negotiation Project, provides a lively portrait—from multiple points of view—of the creative bipartisan negotiations in both the Oregon House and Senate that ultimately led to passage of the 2017 Equal Pay Act. The case helps participants gain insights on the benefits and risks of bipartisanship, how a culture of bipartisanship is created, and strategies to resolve thorny issues and maintain support from political allies.

    Legislative Negotiation Project, May 2018 

    The case, a product of the Legislative Negotiation Project, describes how state legislators in Utah, a very conservative state, assembled a “Coalition of the Willing”— Republican and Democratic representatives alongside religious, civic and business leaders—to negotiate a bipartisan compromise to address the emotionally-charged issue of immigration reform in 2010-2011. The case illuminates issues such as: diagnosing the barriers to agreement; understanding the role of the Utah Compact in shaping the negotiation strategy and trajectory of the 2010-2011 legislation; showing how a focus on problem framing brings more people to the table and creates the conditions for buy-in of an acceptable compromise solution.

    Muriel Rouyer, August 2018 

    American liberal democracy, once a model throughout the world, is in crisis. The most obvious symptom of this malaise is a paradoxical attitude that pervades an underprivileged section of the population that, against its own interests, supports the ruling plutocrats. How can we explain this?

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