Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

What Do I Need to Vote? Bureaucratic Discretion and Discrimination by Local Election Officials

  • ARIEL R. WHITE (a1), NOAH L. NATHAN (a1) and JULIE K. FALLER (a1)

Do street-level bureaucrats discriminate in the services they provide to constituents? We use a field experiment to measure differential information provision about voting by local election administrators in the United States. We contact over 7,000 election officials in 48 states who are responsible for providing information to voters and implementing voter ID laws. We find that officials provide different information to potential voters of different putative ethnicities. Emails sent from Latino aliases are significantly less likely to receive any response from local election officials than non-Latino white aliases and receive responses of lower quality. This raises concerns about the effect of voter ID laws on access to the franchise and about bias in the provision of services by local bureaucrats more generally.

Corresponding author
Ariel R. White (, Noah L. Nathan (, Julie K. Faller ( are Ph.D. Candidates, Department of Government, Harvard University.
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Joseph G. Altonji , and Rebecca Blank . 1999. “Race and Gender in the Labor Market.” In Handbook of Labor Economics Volume 3c, eds. Ashenfelter Orley C. and David Card . San Diego: Elsevier Science.

Lonna Rae Atkeson , Lisa A. Bryant , Thad E. Hall , Kyle L. Saunders , and R. Michael Alvarez . 2010. “A New Barrier to Participation: Heterogenous Application of Voter Identification Policies.” Electoral Studies 29 (1): 6673.

Marianne Bertrand , and Sendhil Mullainathan . 2004. “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” American Economic Review 94 (4): 9911013.

Eric P. Bettinger , Bridget Terry Long , Philip Oreopoulos , and Lisa Sanbonmatsu . 2012. “The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block Fafsa Experiment.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 127 (3): 1205–42.

Evelyn Z. Brodkin 1997. “Inside the Welfare Contract: Discretion and Accountability in State Welfare Administration.” Social Service Review 71 (1): 133.

Sarah K. Bruch , Myra Marx Ferree , and Joe Soss . 2010. “From Policy to Polity: Democracy, Paternalism, and the Incorporation of Disadvantaged Citizens.” American Sociological Review 75 (2): 205–26.

Barry C. Burden , David T. Canon , Stephane Lavertu , Kenneth R. Mayer , and Donal P. Moynihan . 2013. “Selection Method, Partisanship, and the Administration of Elections.” American Politics Research 41 (6): 903–36.

Barry C. Burden , David T. Canon , Kenneth R. Mayer , and Donald P. Moynihan . 2012. “The Effect of Administrative Burden on Bureaucratic Perception of Policies: Evidence from Election Administration.” Public Administration Review 72 (5): 741–51.

Daniel M. Butler , and David E. Broockman . 2011. “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate Against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (3): 463–77.

Rachael V. Cobb , D. James Greiner , and Kevin M. Quinn . 2012. “Can Voter ID Laws Be Administered in a Race-Neutral Manner? Evidence from the City of Boston in 2008.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 7: 133.

Belina Creel Davis , Michelle Livermore , and Younghee Lim . 2011. “The Extended Reach of Minority Political Power: The Interaction of Descriptive Representation, Managerial Networking, and Race.” Journal of Politics 73 (2): 494507.

Rose Ernst , Linda Nguyen , and Kamilah C. Taylor . 2013. “Citizen Control: Race at the Welfare Office.” Social Science Quarterly 94 (5): 1283–307.

Richard C. Fording , Joe Soss , and Sanford F. Schram . 2007. “Devolution, Discretion, and the Effect of Local Political Values on TANF Sanctioning.” Social Service Review 81 (2): 285316.

Michael R. Gottfredson , and Don M. Gottfredson . 1988. Decision Making in Criminal Justice. New York: Springer.

Alexander R. Green , Dana R. Carney , Daniel J. Pallin , Ngo H. Long , Kiristal L. Raymond , Lisa I. Iezzoni , and Mahzarin R. Banaji . 2007. “Implicit Bias Among Physicians and its Prediction of Thrombolysis Decisions for Black and White Patients.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 22 (9): 1231–8.

Christian R. Grose 2014. “Field Experimental Work on Political Institutions.” Annual Review of Political Science 17: 335–70.

Thomas M. Guterbock , Abdoulaye Diop , James M. Ellis , John Lee Holmes , and Kien Trung Leigh . 2011. “Who Needs RDD? Combining Directory Listingswith Cell Phone Exchanges for an Alternative Telephone Sampling Frame.” Social Science Research 40 (3): 860–72.

Thad E. Hall , J. Quin Monson , and Kelly D. Patterson . 2009. “The Human Dimension of Elections: How Poll Workers Shape Public Confidence in Elections.” Political Research Quarterly 62 (3): 507–22.

Ange-Marie Hancock . 2007. “When Multiplication Doesn’t Equal Quick Addition: Examining Intersectionality as a Research Paradigm.” Perspectives on Politics 5 (1): 6379.

Michael J. Hanmer , and Kerem Ozan Kalkan . 2013. “Behind the Curve: Clarifying the Best Approach to Calculating Predicted Probabilities and Marginal Effects from Limited Dependent Variable Models.” American Journal of Political Science 57 (1): 263–77.

David A. Harris 1997. “‘Driving While Black’ and All Other Traffic Offenses: The Supreme Court and Pretextual Traffic Stops.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 87 (2): 544–82.

M.V. Hood, III , and Charles S. Bullock, III. 2012. “Much Ado About Nothing? An Empirical Assessment of the Georgia Voter Identification Statute.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 12 (4): 394414.

Kosuke Imai , Gary King , and Clayton Nall . 2009. “The Essential Role of Pair Matching in Cluster-Randomized Experiments, with Application to the Mexican Universal Health Insurance Evaluation.” Statistical Science 24 (1): 2953.

Bryan D. Jones , Saadia R. Greenberg , Clifford Kaufman , and Joseph Drew . 1977. “Bureaucratic Response to Citizen-Initiated Contacts: Environmental Enforcement in Detroit.” American Political Science Review 71 (1): 148–65.

Lael R. Keiser , Peter R. Mueser , and Seung-Whan Choi . 2004. “Race, Bureaucratic Discretion, and the Implementation of Welfare Reform.” American Journal of Political Science 48 (2): 314–27.

David C. Kimball , and Martha Kropf . 2006. “The Street-Level Bureaucrats of Elections: Selection Methods for Local Election Officials.” Review of Policy Research 23 (6): 1257–68.

David C. Kimball , Martha Kropf , and Lindsay Battles . 2006. “Helping America Vote? Election Administration, Partisanship, and Provisional Voting in the 2004 Election.” Election Law Journal 5 (4): 447–61.

Martha Kropf , David C. Kimball , and Timothy Vercellotti . 2013. “Representative Bureaucracy and Partisanship: The Implementation of Election Laws.” Public Administration Review 73 (2): 242–52.

Kenneth R. Mladenka 1981. “Citizen Demands and Urban Services: The Distribution of Bureaucratic Response in Chicago and Houston.” American Journal of Political Science 25 (4): 693714.

Devah Pager . 2007. “The Use of Field Experiments for Studies of Employment Discrimination: Contributions, Critiques, and Directions for the Future.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 609 (1): 104–33.

Devah Pager , and Hana Shepherd . 2008. “The Sociology of Discrimination: Racial Discrimination in Employment, Housing, Credit, and Consumer Markets.” Annual Review of Sociology 34 (1): 181209.

Devah Pager , Bruce Western , and Bart Bonikowski . 2009. “Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor Market: A Field Experiment.” American Sociological Review 74 (5): 777–99.

Sharon L. Segrest Purkiss , Pamela L. Perrewé , Treena L. Gillespie , Bronston T. Mayes , and Gerald R. Ferris . 2006. “Implicit Sources of Bias in Employment Interview Judgments and Decisions.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 101 (2): 152–67.

Paul R. Rosenbaum , and Donald B. Rubin . 1983. “The Central Role of the Propensity Score in Observational Studies for Causal Effects.” Biometrika 70 (1): 4155.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 27
Total number of PDF views: 323 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1241 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.