Publications

    Ensuring 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.

    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.