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How Well Are Your Elections Run?

This data, from a federal survey sent to local election officials after the 2016 election, is one way to predict how voting will go this year.

This election administration data from 2016 is one way to predict how voting will go this year.

Turnout of Voting Age Population

Election Day Voters Per Polling Place

Poll Workers Per Polling Place

Voter Roll Purges

Turnout of Voting Age Population

Election Day Voters Per Polling Place

Poll Workers Per Polling Place

Voter Roll Purges

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How are Elections Run inYour County?

The U.S. does not run just one election operation, it runs thousands. Elections are decentralized by design, administered independently by counties and towns around the country. While that prevents any one person or group from controlling the outcome, it also makes it hard to keep track of how well elections actually work.

One way to predict how the 2018 election will run is to look at how things went in 2016. The federal government sends a survey to local election officials after every election to get a clearer picture of voters and the voting experience.

So, how did your county do in the last presidential election?

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Casting Your Vote

Across the country, the number of polling places in use on Election Day continues to decline, as early voting and voting by mail become more common. Still, the number of voters and poll workers per polling place can shed light on problems such as the recruitment of poll workers and the potential for long waits to vote.

Long wait times can be a visible indicator of underlying administrative problems, experts say. In 2012, long lines were so significant at some polling places that a presidential commission was created to address the problem. The 2016 election saw fewer long lines, according to researchers, but the issue remains in some places.

Wait Time


State Average

Note: Turnout is based on citizen voting age population

Voting Methods

Many jurisdictions have multiple ways to vote: during early voting periods, by mail or in-person on Election Day. Some of them have different procedures that can change the voting experience or make it harder to understand the rules. If a small percentage of ballots are absentee, for example, that can indicate fairly restrictive rules for that method of voting.

Voting Systems

Voting equipment has changed over time, and in particular the use of electronic poll books has grown over the past six years. States have received millions of dollars in federal assistance to upgrade voting technology, although voters may not see the results until 2020. In 2016, optical scan machines were the most popular kind of voting machine in use. Not all voting equipment creates a paper trail of votes, potentially making auditing machine performance harder, and older equipment has been shown to be vulnerable to a cyberattack by somebody with physical access to the machine.

These are voting systems that will be in use by for the 2018 election.


Direct Recording Electronic (DRE)


DRE with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail

Optical Scan

Optical Scanner

DRE Optical Scan Hybrid

DRE-Optical Scan Hybrid

Hand Counted Paper Ballots

Hand Counted Paper Ballots


You can’t vote if you aren’t registered. And in some cases, you may think you’re registered when you really aren’t. Local election jurisdictions are allowed to remove a registration if they think the person has moved, died, or is no longer interested in voting, and states and different standards for purging registrations. The Supreme Court recently upheld Ohio’s process for removing voters, although opponents point to studies showing that African Americans are more likely to be purged than most white voters. Someone who is removed from the rolls while eligible can still vote, but that person may need to cast a provisional ballot.

Ballot Issues

Another way to detect problems at the polls is the rate of provisional ballots rejected as a percentage of all voters. A voter who shows up at the wrong polling place or whose information doesn’t match the registration record may have to cast a provisional ballot, which must then be accepted or rejected by election authorities. Spikes in this rate could indicate problems with a local jurisdiction, although usage varies. Presidential elections also see greater numbers of provisional ballots.

The number of jurisdictions that allow voting by mail (or have that as their only option) has been increasing, and it’s important to look at the rate of ballots that get rejected. Spikes in that rate could mean that instructions for completing the ballot are unclear or that voters are unaware of standards that may have been updated or changed. For example, absentee mail ballots in Wisconsin need to include both the signature and address of a witness.

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