Expert outlines ways to improve electoral integrity

In her talk, titled “Why American Elections Fail (And How to Fix Them),” Pippa Norris outlined four main points on how electoral integrity in the United States could be improved and spoke about how her group collects its data worldwide.

Norris spoke Friday afternoon in the HUB-Robeson Center on the Penn State campus as part of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Brown Democracy Medal, an award for an individuals or organizations that are building and sustaining democracy.

Norris is a lecturer in comparative politics at Harvard University, a professor of government and international relations at the University of Sydney and the director of The Electoral Integrity Project.

“We can’t just go to temporary fixes … we need to think about the electoral rules and we need to come to some sort of bipartisan agreement,” Norris said. “When we vote, when we register, it shouldn’t be a partisan matter, it shouldn’t be a matter where we differ. It should be one which emphasizes both security and voting rights and convenience. These aren’t tradeoff values. We need to combine them all to have electoral integrity,” Norris said.

Her organization, The Electoral Integrity Project, was this year’s winner of the Brown Democracy Medal.

Her second suggestion involved incorporating “professional electoral management” into elections. “In many other countries there is more of a central commission, with very uniform standards. … We want to make sure that the staff who is administering elections is up to a good professional standard,” Norris said.

“Thirdly, we need to expand transparency and monitoring, to make sure that the electoral workers are effective, to make sure that there aren’t problems at the polls,” Norris said. “And then lastly, if the election ends up in any sort of accusations … we need some effective mediating mechanisms. … We need to put those in place like many other countries so that we can get over any of the problems we think exist.”

“So what is the evidence that we gathered? We have 9,000 experts, we go to the expert one month after the polls and then we ask them a series of questions about their receptions of electoral integrity.”

The Electoral Integrity Project then immediately releases its data “because it is amazingly useful for graduate students and for many others who want to actually examine their own country or see how the election worked in practice,” Norris said.

The project picks 40 social and political scientists per country with knowledge in the subject and gets a mean response rate of 30 percent.

The Electoral Integrity Project was established in 2012 at Harvard University and the University of Sydney and focuses on why elections fail and what can be done.

Renato Buanafina is a Penn State journalism student.