Washington has long been a leader in elections that is nationally recognized for its consistently high performance. As a mail-ballot state, Washington ensures that every registered voter gets a ballot that is easy and secure; the state also leads the country in cutting down wait times for voting, serving voters with disabilities, and accepting a high percentage of military and overseas ballots.
These statistics are determined by the Elections Performance Index, an assessment overseen by MIT that analyzes election administration nationwide. Despite Washington’s leadership status and its history of innovation to improve voter turnout, the state received an average rating in the 2018 EPI, earning the same score (20) as it did in 2014.
So, why the discrepancy? Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at MIT who oversees the EPI, took a closer look and concluded that the methodology of the assessment needs to be updated; the EPI needs to “take into account the new models of voting and developments in election administration,” Stewart said in a statement.
One of the problems, explained Denver City and County Elections Director Amber McReynolds, is that Washington is a mail-ballot state. “The EPI was built to examine the traditional model of voting that includes polling places, early voting, and mail ballot requests,” McReynolds said. “Thus, in states like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, all of which proactively deliver a ballot to each voter prior to an election, the EPI reflects a negative rating for unreturned mail ballots, which essentially holds these states accountable for turnout twice.”
Future EPI assessments will rectify this mistake so that mail-ballot states can continue to encourage voting without being penalized for their efforts. Washington will work closely with MIT to ensure that future elections — and the innovative administration that goes on behind the scenes — are accurately represented by the EPI.