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The Administrators of Democracy: A Research Note on Local Election Officials


Donald P. Moynihan is an associate professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research examines the application of organization theory to public management issues such as performance, homeland security, election administration, and employee behavior. He is the author of The Dynamics of Performance Management: Constructing Information and Reform (Georgetown University Press, 2008).

Carol L. Silva is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and the Center for Applied Social Research at the University of Oklahoma. Her research interests include environmental politics and policy, the politics and management of elections, contingent valuation methodology, policy analysis, survey research methodology, risk analysis and assessment, and gender and risk perception.


Local election officials are the administrators of democracy, but we know little about their views. This paper draws from two national surveys of local election officials. The authors find that local election officials generally support the goals of the federal Help America Vote Act but are less enthusiastic about the actual impact of the legislation. Implementation theory helps explain their evaluation of federal reforms. Goal congruence with reform mandates, resource availability, and a willingness to accept federal involvement predicts support for these reforms. Federal policy changes have promoted electronic systems, and some of the authors’ findings are relevant to research on e-government. Users of electronic voting machines tend to have high confidence in them despite the significant criticism the machines have faced. Local election officials who support e-government generally are more likely to more positively evaluate federal reforms.