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Activate each vote | MIT News

Graduate student Jacob Jaffe wants to improve election administration in America. To that end, he says, “he poses hitherto underused political science problems and solves them in hitherto underutilized ways.”

Considerable research has been done to understand “who votes and what does and does not vote,” says Jaffe. He turns his attention to problems of a different nature. Will giving voters actionable information about how to vote change the way they vote? experience? These issues are at the core of his paper.

Drawing on resources from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, Jaffe conducted new field experiments to gather highly detailed information about local, state, and federal elections, and used advanced statistical techniques to reveal this treasure trove. Analyze the Whether investigating the possibility of vote miscounting or the possibility of changing the way voters vote, Jaffe plans to strengthen its foothold to support representative governments. “Elections are important both theoretically and normatively. They are the foundation of our belief in the moral legitimacy of nations to do what nations do,” he says.

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In one of his keystone projects, Jaffe seized a unique opportunity to conduct large-scale field experiments. In the summer of 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, he sent his 80,000 Florida residents an email explaining how to vote by mail in the upcoming primary. His email contained a link for recipients to fill out his two quick questions and receive their ballots. “I wanted to know if this was an effective way to get people to vote by mail, and it’s been statistically proven,” he says. “It’s important to know this because if an election requires people to vote outside of their local area or use one method to vote another way, for example, a hurricane or another We’ve learned that if you’re evacuated due to an emergency, we can be effective: a new mode of voting that’s both practical and fast.”

One of Jaffe’s insights from this experiment is that people read voting-related emails, but the content of the emails should be something they can act on immediately. “Messages telling people to vote two weeks from now aren’t very helpful.” The less, the more likely the person will participate in the election.

“If you want people to vote by mail, you need to reduce information costs and make it easier for voters to understand how the system works,” he says.

Another important research question for Jaffe is to scrutinize the accuracy of vote counting using the example of presidential election recounts. Making sure one vote is valid “is one of the most fundamental problems in democracy,” he says.

To give you access to 20 elections in 2020, Jaffe compares each candidate’s original vote total to the recounted correct tally at the constituency level. “Using his unique combinatorial technique, we can estimate the probability of ballot miscounts,” he says. The ultimate goal is to get a detailed picture of the effectiveness of election administration across the country.

“It varies a lot from state to state, but most states are doing well,” he says. States that take longer to count will perform better. “There is a phenomenon in some towns where they race to get results as quickly as possible, and this affects accuracy.”

Despite the silver lining, Jaffe sees a chronic shortage of US campaign funds. “We need to give local managers the resources, time, and money to fund their employees to do their jobs,” he says. The worse the situation, the more likely it is that “the election will be judged wrong without anyone knowing”. We believe that we can provide “Determining how well ballots have been counted historically can help determine the likelihood that future elections will require costly recounts,” he says.

ballot box and beyond

It didn’t take long for Jaffe to decide to devote his life to studying politics. A Boston-area family member, he says, “I loved talking about what was going on in the world.” time magazines at the age of nine, and economist in middle school. While in high school, he volunteered and worked in constituency services for then-Massachusetts Congressman Bernie Frank and Senator John Kerry.At Rice University, he worked with political scientist Robert M. did his four-year internship under Stein. With Stein’s help, Jaffe got a job investigating voting rights cases at the Department of Justice (DOJ) the summer before his senior year.

“I found the experience fascinating and the work very important,” says Jaffe. His portfolio included determining whether a legal challenge to a particular election met statistical criteria for racial gerrymandering. “We had to answer difficult quantitative questions about the relationship between race and voting in a region and whether minority candidates were systematically prevented from winning,” he said. increase.

But while Jaffe had a lot of interest in the job, he didn’t find it rewarding enough. “As a 21-year-old DOJ, he learned that statistics can be used to address the world’s problems,” he says. “But we felt we could have a greater impact by working on more difficult issues other than voting rights.”

Jaffe was drawn to the work of Charles Stewart III, MIT’s Political Science, specifically Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Director of the MIT Election Lab, and Head of Jaffe’s Papers Committee. What attracted Jaffe was not just the opportunity to explore the lab’s singular repository of voting data, but the commitment to enabling all voting. For Jaffe, this was a call to arms to investigate the many, sometimes routine, obstacles that lie between citizens and ballot boxes.

To this end, with the help of mathematical methods from queuing theory, he has analyzed why some elections require queues of six hours or more at polling stations. “If voting were simpler, people wouldn’t get stuck on these lines that they might give up before voting,” he says. “Looking at the content of the ballots and the interval between voter check-ins and check-outs, adding race instead of candidates to the ballot, people take longer to complete the ballot, leading to endless lines. I found out that it means

A key takeaway from his body of research, he says, is that “it’s relatively rare for elections to go wrong, but we shouldn’t think they’re okay.” “Instead, we should ask in what situations it gets worse and how it can be improved.”