Privatized Democracy: The Role of Election Services Vendors in the United States

Published date01 November 2020
Date01 November 2020
AuthorNadine Suzanne Gibson
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2020, Vol. 48(6) 705 –708
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X20920264
Election Services Vendors
One of the least understood aspects of American elections is
the role of election services vendors. Election services ven-
dors are responsible for providing voting equipment as well
as the provision of vital election services to states and locali-
ties. When a jurisdiction purchases voting equipment, they
are actually purchasing the hardware and software along
with a variety of services for the initial implementation and
long-term service and support of the system.1 Localities of
all sizes spend roughly one third of their election administra-
tion expenditures on services from election vendors (see
Table A-2 in the Online Appendix), yet the research on the
costs of elections has largely overlooked the role of the pri-
vate sector in the conduct of elections, let alone election ser-
vices vendors. What scholarly research does exist on election
services vendors focuses primarily on the availability of vot-
ing equipment (University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School
Public Policy Initiative, 2016) and voting equipment func-
tionality (Herrnson et al., 2008).
More broadly, our understanding of the financial costs of
elections is limited at best. Only two major studies have
directly investigated county-level election expenditures since
the implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002
(HAVA). Hill (2012) and Mohr et al. (2019) offer two models
for understanding variation in absolute spending on elections
at the county level. The “public-sector cost model” presented
by Hill (2012) conceptualizes election expenditure as a func-
tion of the production costs of elections and the demand for
election services. Given this framework, Hill (2012) finds
that evidence for the choice of localities to switch voting sys-
tems and the type of voting system have an impact on the
production costs, while the size of a locality’s minority popu-
lation has an impact on the demand for election spending.
In response to Hill (2012), Mohr et al. (2019) offer the “The
Political Model of Election Administration Expenditure” as an
alternative model of county-level total election expenditures.
This model takes into account partisan electoral incentives and
the partisan policy preferences of local election officials. Mohr
et al. (2019) find that Republican county commissions in safe
Republican areas spend roughly 10% less than non-Republican
county commissions.
Although Hill (2012) and Mohr et al. (2019) use data from
California and North Carolina, respectively, both find evidence
for economies of scale in election spending. In other words,
counties with larger populations spend less per registered voter
than counties with smaller populations. This suggests some
variation in financial challenges facing counties of differing
sizes. Both studies, however, leave questions of how localities
are spending money on elections and whether spending trans-
lates into higher quality elections for future scholarship.
Outside the literature on the financial costs of elections,
only one study has directly investigated the impact of the
920264APRXXX10.1177/1532673X20920264American Politics ResearchGibson
1University of North Carolina Wilmington, USA
Corresponding Author:
Nadine Suzanne Gibson, University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601
South College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403-3201, USA.
Privatized Democracy: The Role of
Election Services Vendors in the
United States
Part of Special Symposium on Election Sciences
Nadine Suzanne Gibson1
Election equipment in the United States is exclusively purchased from private-sector vendors. When a jurisdiction purchases
voting equipment, it is actually purchasing the hardware and software along with a variety of services for the initial
implementation and long-term maintenance and support of the system. Election services constitute roughly one third of
county-level election expenditures. The results of logistic regression analyses estimating the likelihoods of county purchases
of different election services from election services vendors suggest a relationship between purchasing decisions and county
demographics, namely the size of the minority population. Localities in states with centralized contracting systems were also
substantially more likely to purchase all forms of vendor services.
voting equipment, spending, election services, election administration

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