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June 26, 2024 ABA Task Force for American Democracy

Building Trust: Election Administration and the Role of Higher Education

Columbia University / Columbia World Projects, February 2022


This report describes higher education institutions' role in supporting elections. Based on two convenings with election officials, practitioners, and scholars, the report offers a look at how universities support elections and makes a series of recommendations. The first part of the report outlines the ways that universities currently partner with and support elections. These include a range of means, such as producing reports on the best ways to audit results, producing software tools that help people know where to vote, as well as some degree program offerings in election administration, among others. The second part makes recommendations along four main lines of effort (below in recommendation section). These recommendations uniformly seek to leverage the knowledge, experience, and capacity of universities to more readily assist election officials and administrators. 

Key Findings/Messages

Universities currently support election administration across the country in a wide variety of ways. Institutions should continue to find new ways to leverage the talent and expertise of higher education to support election administration. These efforts will ultimately improve trust in elections. 

Key Recommendations Made

  1. Universities should conduct academic consultations with election officials. These engagements with election officials would include discussions about design deficiencies, administrative shortfalls, and innovative practices to help under-resourced election offices. These engagements should also leverage nonprofit, philanthropic, and civic technology sectors.
  2. Universities should reshape research practices to better support the needs of election administrators to increase the chances that insights from scholarship support procedural and administrative improvements. This should include more qualitative research, oral history initiatives with retiring election administrators, and better communicating data to the public about election processes to increase understanding.
  3. Increase the number of institutions that are engaged in election research to better reflect the diversity of the nation’s voters. This also includes promoting study of elections from a greater range of academic disciplines.
  4. Government and philanthropic organizations should invest in higher education-election administration partnerships.