Lia Merivaki, Ph.D.
Mississippi State University
Address: 456 Hardy Road, 105 Bowen Hall
City: Mississippi State, Mississippi - 39762
Country: United States
I am an Assistant Professor in American Politics at Mississippi State University, Department of Political Science and Public Administration and a member of The Carter Center's U.S. Elections Expert Study Team since September 2020. My research agenda is situated within the growing field of Election Sciences, which includes the study of election reforms, election administration, voter education, as well as election data transparency and accessibility. My research expertise covers two important dimensions of the electoral process: a. the institutional framework that structures access to voting, and b. the administrative framework that conditions a voter’s right to be informed. Specifically, my research focuses on testing a theory of collaborative governance to illustrate how institutional and administrative rules across the states affect voter behavior. I laid the foundation of this theory in my book, titled The Administration of Voter Registration: Patterns and Variation Across and Within the American States (2021), where I utilize underexplored and difficult to obtain election data to demonstrate the complex infrastructure that guides voter registration in the United States, and how that infrastructure impacts access to voting.
Elections, Election Administration, and Voting Behavior
Youth Civic Engagement
Countries of Interest
My research focuses on the empirical assessment of election reforms on the administration of elections across the American states. My research agenda is situated within the growing field of Election Sciences, which includes the study of election reforms, election administration, as well as election data transparency and accessibility. Please visit www.merivaki.com to find out more about my research, teaching and community engagement.
In the Fall of 2018, students of Campaign Politics at Mississippi State University drafted and implemented Get Out the Voter Registration campaigns across the university's campus. For this assignment, students worked in teams and used Tuft University’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) to target undergraduate student groups with historically low voter turnout rates and register them to vote. The effort resulted in over 300 new students registering to vote on National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), in addition to new registrations from other campus wide efforts.
Electoral management bodies have a responsibility to ensure voters have equitable access to the election process, starting with providing information to successfully navigate it. In this article, we assess the educative effects of different modes of election official voter education on completing the voter registration process. We use surveys of voter education activities submitted by the state of Florida’s 67 County local election officials (LEOs) in the United States to evaluate their impact on new voter registrations between 2014 and 2018. We also use a dataset of Florida election officials’ monthly Facebook activity during the 2020 election to examine the relationship between content-specific social media posts and new voter registrations, and usage of Florida’s online voter registration (OVR) portal. We find that traditional media, specifically newspaper ads, and face-to-face outreach – visits to local communities, and training for third-party voter registration drives – increase new registrations. We also find that sharing Facebook posts about voter registration specifically during the 2020 election cycle increased new registrations and usage of Florida’s OVR system. Our findings have important implications about the breadth of tools electoral management bodies across the world have to inform voters, and how they can use them to facilitate voter access.
Election data transparency, accessibility, and usability constitute key dimensions of electoral integrity, as they allow for an additional accountability check on how states and localities run elections. Yet, it is an understudied topic, because of challenges in systematic data collection. Lack of data transparency has important implications for a democratic election process: It can reflect non-compliance with federal and state election laws, discriminatory practices, or lack of capacity in modernizing the conduct of elections. Thus far, there is no standard way for states to report election data, and there is no standard way to request, collect, and disseminate them. This paper presents the various ways state and local governments make official precinct-level election results publicly available, based on an OpenElections collection effort that covered primary and general elections in 2016 and 2018 in every U.S. state. We describe methods for obtaining official precinct results, ranging from formal records requests under state law, photographing pages in-person, to results sent by fax, and the benefits and costs of those methods. Using this information, local and state officials could adopt processes and policies to promote public access to official precinct-level election results.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) incentivized states to invest in voter education and outreach by making federal funds available under the condition that states include a voter education section in their state implementation plans. Since the initial HAVA plans were submitted by all states in 2003, there is notable variation in whether states revised them, and how they evolved. In this article, we offer a descriptive examination of how states designed and revised their voter education plans, and to what extent they met HAVA's core provisions on voter education. We analyze all states' initial HAVA submissions, and track plan revisions between 2004 and 2013. Our findings are consistent with existing scholarly evidence that loosely defined mandates lead to variation in state compliance. States did not uniformly incorporate core HAVA voter education provisions in their initial plans and revisions, and there were differences in the inclusion of education materials for language minority and disabled voters, suggesting limits on compliance with existing federal laws. Variation in the details of states' initial plans and subsequent revisions are explained by whether a given state is covered by the Voting Rights Act as well as state electoral competition. Our findings have implications for understanding how states design voter education policies to ensure that voters have adequate information on how to navigate the election process.
Whose voter registration requires further verification and why? And why are some prospective registrants left out from voter records? These questions can uncover challenges in the voter registration process, and potential implementation issues with federal and state law. In this article, I analyze “on hold” voter registration applications processed between November 2007 and September 2008 in Florida’s Hillsborough and Miami-Dade Counties. I evaluate why individuals were left out of the voter rolls, by matching their records to snapshots of the counties’ voter records from December 2008. I find that “on hold” applicants face persistent challenges in successfully registering to vote, particularly depending on when they attempt to register and what type of information they omit from a voter registration application.
Accurate voter lists facilitate access to the electoral process, indicate efficient voter list maintenance, and reinforce electoral integrity. Errors in voter records often result from variation in practices that are difficult to avoid given the decentralized structure of election administration in the United States. In many states, localities lack capacity to efficiently complete voter list maintenance, especially when pressured to keep “clean” voter rolls. I argue that local challenges remain when maintaining voters’ registration and voting history information, which undermines the quality of voter lists and the integrity of the electoral process. I analyze Mississippi’s Statewide Election Management System (SEMS) records and find that voter registration and voting history errors are linked to the county’s active and inactive registered voter rates and demographic characteristics. These findings confirm that local variation in voter list maintenance can impact voters depending on their voter registration status and can result in premature voter list removal.
Provisional ballots constitute a failsafe for voters who have their registration or voter identification questioned by poll workers. Scholars have yet to examine who is more likely to cast a provisional ballot, and more importantly, why some provisional ballots are rejected. We suggest that beyond individual-level factors, there are administrative reasons why some prospective voters are more likely to be required to cast provisional ballots than others, and why some provisional ballots are rejected. Drawing on county data collected by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) biennial Election Administration and Voting Surveys (EAVS) from 2012 to 2016, and individual records of provisional ballots cast in the 2016 Presidential Election in North Carolina, we examine aggregate- and individual-level reasons to explain who casts provisional ballots and why some are rejected. Our findings raise normative questions concerning whether voters casting provisional ballots are treated equally under the law.
During every election cycle, election administrators validate voter registration applications submitted at different times and through various sources, with a notable peak in the demand for voter registration as Election Day approaches. The process of registering to vote, however, is error-prone and may depend on the voter’s capacity to fill a form correctly, or the election administrator’s capacity to successfully process applications as the voter registration window closes. Such errors can limit a prospective, and eligible, voter’s ability to cast a valid ballot. This study assesses the impact of time and registration source on the rates of rejected voter registration applications by analyzing monthly county-level voter registration reports during the 2012 election cycle in Florida. I find that there is a dynamic relationship between administrative and seasonal factors at the county level, which condition the rates of rejected voter registrations as the registration deadline approaches. These findings suggest complications in not only the process of registering to vote that may stem from differences in voter engagement but also the variation in administrative oversight throughout the election cycle. Keywords voter registration, NVRA, election reform, election administration, local election officials
Provisional ballots are the stepchildren of local election administration. Voters deemed by poll workers to be ineligible to vote a regular ballot are permitted to cast provisional ballots; these ballots are verified by local canvassing boards after the election results are tabulated and the unofficial winners declared. We find that the partisan leanings of local elections officials play a minimal role in the number of provisional ballots cast and rejected, which we hope will encourage scholars to scrutinize other local factors that might cause disparities in these votes of last resort.
Presidential elections are conducted in two stages. The November general election is proceeded by a series of contests where delegates are selected to national party conventions, which is where the parties select their candidates for the fall election. These nominating contests’ political environments vary: the rules regarding who can participate; the levels of electoral competition, which are related to when they are held; and that other offices present on the ballot, if any. We explore the effects of these conditions on voter participation in recent presidential contests and generally find turnout highest in competitive and inclusive contests where other offices are on the ballot. Examining the 2008 American National Election Panel Study, we find primary voters are more ideologically extreme than general election voters, but there is little difference between voters in closed and open primary states. We suggest primary type has little effect on the ideological composition of the electorate because modern nomination contests are low turnout elections that draw only the most politically interested.
This book examines the dynamics behind shifts in voter registration rates across the states and adopts a framework of collaborative governance with election administration at its center. The book starts by introducing readers to the “voter registration gap,” an aggregate measure of variance in voter registration, and demonstrates how it fluctuates between federal elections. To explain why this variance exists, the author examines the relationship between federal reforms, such as the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act; and state-level reforms, such as Online Voter Registration. Thessalia Merivaki argues that the weak relationship between the two is not surprising, since it hides dramatic variations in administrative practices at the local level, which take place in shorter intervals than the most frequently used two-year estimates. In closing, she shows that challenges to successfully registering to vote persist, largely because of how, when, and where eligible citizens have to register.
Since the adoption of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, states have taken significant steps to modernize the voter registration process and to minimize errors in managing voter registration lists. Reforms such as Online Voter Registration, Election Day Registration, youth pre-registration, as well as Automatic Voter Registration decrease the burden for prospective voters, but they may still create challenges for election administrators insofar as efficiently entering and managing lists of registered voters. Evidence from provisional votes cast and accepted during the 2016 presidential election in North Carolina demonstrates that voter list maintenance issues can keep eligible voters off the voter rolls and deter them from casting a regular ballot. The local variation in how provisional voters are processed and the disproportionate impact on minority voters raises concerns of equity and also has broader implications about how election reforms are administered locally and across the states. Researchers are able to uncover such patterns by analyzing election administration and turnout data reported by states and localities to federal agencies such as the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). However, limitations remain due to inconsistent data reporting, which strongly demonstrates gaps in election data transparency across the states.
Healthy democracies design and maintain electoral institutions where elections are free and fair, and voter participation is not thwarted for political gains. If these conditions exist, then election outcomes are legitimate, and voter trust in democratic institutions is high. Across democratic nations there exist similarities in how electoral institutions are designed and how elections are run, yet the legitimacy of election outcomes and voter trust dramatically varies. What explains this variation across healthy democracies, and how does the United States fare in ensuring that elections are free and fair?
Election officials are busily trying to recruit younger volunteers to staff the United States’ roughly 230,000 polling sites on Election Day in November. Many of the nation’s poll workers are reluctant to work during the pandemic because they are, overwhelmingly, older and at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection. Poll workers are the gatekeepers of democracy. They check people in, verify their identity and determine their eligibility to vote. If voters do not appear on the rolls, poll workers trouble-shoot the problem or offer a provisional ballot. Poll workers also explain how the machines work, answer questions about the ballot and field complaints about long lines. For all this, they are paid modestly – US$12 an hour in Portland, Maine, or up to $280 a day in New York City. So local election officials are used to facing shortages of poll workers. But COVID-19 makes the staffing challenge greater than ever.
n almost all US states, voters are required to register to vote ahead of actually casting their ballot. In new research focusing on voter registration in Florida, Thessalia Merivaki finds that both how and where people register to vote is important. Those who registered to vote in rural counties, she writes, as well as in the June and February preceding the registration deadline, were more likely to have their registrations rejected.
Accurate voter lists matter because they facilitate access to the electoral process, and indicate efficient voter list maintenance. Errors in voter records often result from local variation in voter list management practices, which are inevitable given the highly decentralized structure of election administration in the United States..
The process of registering to vote is unquestionably one of the biggest hurdles prospective voters must jump before participating in an upcoming election. Individuals have to submit a voter registration application within a state-mandated deadline, which is then verified and processed by local election officials. If the applicant satisfies all the eligibility requirements in her state and county of residence, she should successfully be added to the voter rolls and will be permitted to cast a regular ballot..
Many of the problems that come up during elections involve the management of voter registration. Before 2000, voters who showed up to vote on Election Day but found that their names were not on the voter registration lists in their jurisdiction were simply turned away from the polls. This practice prevented many eligible voters from casting their ballots, even when they were correctly registered to vote. Outdated and locally maintained voter lists increased the risk that eligible voters would be improperly turned away, as they left room for administrative errors.
College students participate in elections at lower rates than average Americans. And yet, being in college exposes them to an environment of diversity, inclusion, political debate, political dissent, and a multitude of social interactions. If the foundations for civic engagement exist, why is there such a disconnect between the college experience and political participation?
The high cost of acquiring big election data effectively subverts democracy by privileging the major political parties and the wealthy over the public. In light of the fact that some states make their voter lists freely available, it’s hard to find any compelling reason to keep onerous prices and use restrictions in place. This data belongs to the public. The millions of voter registration records are of us, and we should have access to them.
NSLVE Report Release, The Faculty Perspective Webinar Thu, May 23, 2019 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EDT
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