Today, Columbia World Projects (CWP) issued a new report, “Building Trust: Election Administration and the Role of Higher Education.”
The report highlights the need to address the alarming erosion of trust in elections in the United States and the urgent threat this crisis of trust poses to democracy. The report finds that universities are well-placed to bolster trust in elections and must act to restore public trust in our electoral systems.
Columbia World Projects, an initiative that mobilizes Columbia University resources to confront the great challenges of our time, brought together a bipartisan group of experts including secretaries of four U.S. states that played pivotal roles in the 2020 presidential election, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington; local election officials; and top researchers in election science to debate and plan how universities can help rebuild public trust in the electoral system and elections.
Their recommendations, outlined in the report, are to:
Promote collaborations among election science scholars and election practitioners
Modify academic approaches to directly respond to the needs of election officials
Broaden and diversify the institutions and researchers engaged in the study of elections
Invest in higher education-election administration partnerships
The report includes a foreword by Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, one of the nation’s foremost First Amendment experts, and Columbia World Projects Deputy Director and Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History Ira Katznelson. “Given the central importance of elections, and given the fact that their viability is completely dependent on not being partisan, the opportunity for colleges and universities to serve the public good is considerable,” write President Bollinger and Professor Katznelson.
“The reality is that many of the problems faced in our elections today can be aided by successful academic partnerships,” noted Neal Kelley (R), the Registrar of Voters in Orange County, California, and a co-author of the report. “We need to see more high-quality partnerships between universities and local election offices. The recommendations in this report will help build and scale these partnerships.”
Thomas Asher, Director of Research and Engagement at CWP said, “The report identifies concrete platforms and networks that might connect universities and election administrators in order to build more trustworthy election administration practices and greater trust in election outcomes.” He continued: “Universities can play a vital role in this process, particularly by expanding the scope of the field of election research to include a broad range of institutions working in rural and urban spaces, as well as solidly blue and red election districts, and by bringing more diversity to this discipline.”
On the heels of this report, CWP will announce a forthcoming public conversation on the topic and directed action to move forward with the recommendations in the report.