Skip to main content

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.
Hide All
Altonji Joseph G., and Blank Rebecca. 1999. “Race and Gender in the Labor Market.” In Handbook of Labor Economics Volume 3c, eds. Orley C. Ashenfelter and Card David. San Diego: Elsevier Science.
Alvarez R. Michael, Bailey Delia, and Katz Jonathan N.. 2008. “The Effect of Voter Identification Laws on Turnout.” California Institute of Technology Social Science Working Paper 1267R.
Ansolabehere Stephen. 2009. “Effects of Identification Requirements on Voting: Evidence from the Experiences of Voters on Election Day.” PS: Political Science & Politics 42 (1): 127–30.
Atkeson Lonna Rae, Bryant Lisa A., Hall Thad E., Saunders Kyle L., and Alvarez R. Michael. 2010. “A New Barrier to Participation: Heterogenous Application of Voter Identification Policies.” Electoral Studies 29 (1): 6673.
Barreto Matt A., Nuño Stephen A., and Sanchez Gabriel R.. 2007. “Voter ID Requirements and the Disenfranchisement of Latino, Black and Asian Voters.” Prepared for presentation at 2007 American Political Science Association Annual Conference.
Barreto Matt A., Nuño Stephen A., and Sanchez Gabriel R.. 2009. “The Disproportionate Impact of Voter-ID Requirements on the Electorate - New Evidence from Indiana.” PS: Political Science & Politics 42 (1): 111–16.
Barreto Matt A., Sanchez Gabriel R., and Walker Hannah. 2012. “Rates of Possession of Valid Photo Identification, and Public Knowledge of Voter ID Law in Pennsylvania.” Expert Report Submitted on Behalf of Plaintiffs in Applewhite, et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania et al., No. 330 MD 2012.
Berinsky Adam J., Huber Gregory A., and Lenz Gabriel S.. 2012. “Evaluating Online Labor Markets for Experimental Research:’s Mechanical Turk.” Political Analysis 20 (3): 351–68.
Bertrand Marianne, and Mullainathan Sendhil. 2004. “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” American Economic Review 94 (4): 9911013.
Bettinger Eric P., Long Bridget Terry, Oreopoulos Philip, and Sanbonmatsu Lisa. 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.
Bhargava Saurabh, and Manoli Dayanand. 2013. “Why Are Benefits Left on the Table? Assessing the Role of Information, Complexity, and Stigma on Take-up with an IRS Field Experiment.” Working Paper.
Brady Henry E., and McNulty John E.. 2011. “Turning Out to Vote: The Costs of Finding and Getting to the Polling Place.” American Political Science Review 105 (1): 115–34.
Brodkin Evelyn Z. 1997. “Inside the Welfare Contract: Discretion and Accountability in State Welfare Administration.” Social Service Review 71 (1): 133.
Bruch Sarah K., Ferree Myra Marx, and Soss Joe. 2010. “From Policy to Polity: Democracy, Paternalism, and the Incorporation of Disadvantaged Citizens.” American Sociological Review 75 (2): 205–26.
Burden Barry C., Canon David T., Lavertu Stephane, Mayer Kenneth R., and Moynihan Donal P.. 2013. “Selection Method, Partisanship, and the Administration of Elections.” American Politics Research 41 (6): 903–36.
Burden Barry C., Canon David T., Mayer Kenneth R., and Moynihan Donald P.. 2012. “The Effect of Administrative Burden on Bureaucratic Perception of Policies: Evidence from Election Administration.” Public Administration Review 72 (5): 741–51.
Butler Daniel M., and Broockman David E.. 2011. “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate Against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (3): 463–77.
Cobb Rachael V., Greiner D. James, and Quinn Kevin M.. 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.
Davis Belina Creel, Livermore Michelle, and Lim Younghee. 2011. “The Extended Reach of Minority Political Power: The Interaction of Descriptive Representation, Managerial Networking, and Race.” Journal of Politics 73 (2): 494507.
Erikson Robert S., and Minnite Lorraine C.. 2009. “Modeling Problems in the Voter Identification – Voter Turnout Debate.” Election Law Journal 8 (2): 85101.
Ernst Rose, Nguyen Linda, and Taylor Kamilah C.. 2013. “Citizen Control: Race at the Welfare Office.” Social Science Quarterly 94 (5): 1283–307.
Estabrook Leigh, Witt Evans, and Rainie Lee. 2007. “Information Searches that Solve Problems: How People Use the Internet, Libraries, and Government Agencies When They Need Help.” Pew Internet & American Life Project:
Fording Richard C., Soss Joe, and Schram Sanford F.. 2007. “Devolution, Discretion, and the Effect of Local Political Values on TANF Sanctioning.” Social Service Review 81 (2): 285316.
Gelman Andrew, and Hill Jennifer. 2007. Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gilens Martin. 2004. “Poor People in the News: Images from the Journalistic Subconscious.” In Class and News, ed. Heider Don. Oxford, UK: Rowman and Littlefield, 4460.
Goodsell Charles T. 1983. The Case for Bureaucracy: A Public Administration Polemic. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers.
Gottfredson Michael R., and Gottfredson Don M.. 1988. Decision Making in Criminal Justice. New York: Springer.
Green Alexander R., Carney Dana R., Pallin Daniel J., Long Ngo H., Raymond Kiristal L., Iezzoni Lisa I., and Banaji Mahzarin R.. 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.
Grose Christian R. 2014. “Field Experimental Work on Political Institutions.” Annual Review of Political Science 17: 335–70.
Guterbock Thomas M., Diop Abdoulaye, Ellis James M., Holmes John Lee, and Leigh Kien Trung. 2011. “Who Needs RDD? Combining Directory Listingswith Cell Phone Exchanges for an Alternative Telephone Sampling Frame.” Social Science Research 40 (3): 860–72.
Hall Thad E., Monson J. Quin, and Patterson Kelly D.. 2009. “The Human Dimension of Elections: How Poll Workers Shape Public Confidence in Elections.” Political Research Quarterly 62 (3): 507–22.
Hancock Ange-Marie. 2007. “When Multiplication Doesn’t Equal Quick Addition: Examining Intersectionality as a Research Paradigm.” Perspectives on Politics 5 (1): 6379.
Hanmer Michael J., and Kalkan Kerem Ozan. 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.
Harris David A. 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.
Hood, III M.V., and Bullock, III. Charles S. 2012. “Much Ado About Nothing? An Empirical Assessment of the Georgia Voter Identification Statute.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 12 (4): 394414.
Hosoda Megumi, Nguyen Lam T., and Stone-Romero Eugene F.. 2012. “The Effect of Hispanic Accents on Employment Decisions.” Journal of Managerial Psychology 27 (4): 347–64.
Hoxby Caroline, and Turner Sarah. 2013. “Expanding College Opportunities for High-Achieving, Low Income Students.” SIEPR Discussion Paper No. 12-014.
Iacus Stefano M., King Gary, and Porro Giuseppe. 2012. “Causal Inference without Balance Checking: Coarsened Exact Matching.” Political Analysis 20 (1): 124.
Imai Kosuke, King Gary, and Nall Clayton. 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.
Jones Bryan D., Greenberg Saadia R., Kaufman Clifford, and Drew Joseph. 1977. “Bureaucratic Response to Citizen-Initiated Contacts: Environmental Enforcement in Detroit.” American Political Science Review 71 (1): 148–65.
Keiser Lael R., Mueser Peter R., and Choi Seung-Whan. 2004. “Race, Bureaucratic Discretion, and the Implementation of Welfare Reform.” American Journal of Political Science 48 (2): 314–27.
Kimball David C., and Kropf Martha. 2006. “The Street-Level Bureaucrats of Elections: Selection Methods for Local Election Officials.” Review of Policy Research 23 (6): 1257–68.
Kimball David C., Kropf Martha, and Battles Lindsay. 2006. “Helping America Vote? Election Administration, Partisanship, and Provisional Voting in the 2004 Election.” Election Law Journal 5 (4): 447–61.
Kingsley John Donald. 1944. Representative Bureaucracy: An Intepretation of the British Civil Service. Yellow Springs, OH: Antioch Press.
Krislov Samuel. 2012. Representative Bureaucracy. New Orleans: Quid Pro Books.
Kropf Martha, Kimball David C., and Vercellotti Timothy. 2013. “Representative Bureaucracy and Partisanship: The Implementation of Election Laws.” Public Administration Review 73 (2): 242–52.
Lipsky Michael. 1980. Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Lopez Mark Hugo, and Gonzalez-Barrera Ana. 2012. “Latino Voters Support Obama by 3-1 Ratio, But Are Less Certain than Others about Voting.” Pew Hispanic Center:
McClendon Gwyneth H. 2012. “Race, Responsiveness, and Electoral Strategy: A Field Experiment with South African Politicians.” Working Paper, Harvard University.
McNulty John E., Downing Conor M., and Ariotti Margaret H.. 2009. “Driving Saints to Sin: How Increasing the Difficulty of Voting Dissuades Even the Most Motivated Voters.” Political Analysis 17: 435–55.
Meier Kenneth J. 1975. “Representative Bureaucracy: An Empirical Analysis.” American Political Science Review 69 (2): 526–42.
Mettler Suzanne, and Soss Joe. 2004. “The Consequences of Public Policy for Democratic Citizenship: Bridging Policy Studies and Mass Politics.” Perspectives on Politics 2 (1): 5573.
Mladenka Kenneth R. 1981. “Citizen Demands and Urban Services: The Distribution of Bureaucratic Response in Chicago and Houston.” American Journal of Political Science 25 (4): 693714.
Mycoff Jason D., Wagner Michael W., and Wilson David C.. 2009. “The Empirical Effects of Voter-ID Laws: Present or Absent?PS: Political Science & Politics 42 (1): 121–6.
National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. “National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 2006 Data Realease Data and Documentation.”
Pager Devah. 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.
Pager Devah, and Shepherd Hana. 2008. “The Sociology of Discrimination: Racial Discrimination in Employment, Housing, Credit, and Consumer Markets.” Annual Review of Sociology 34 (1): 181209.
Pager Devah, Western Bruce, and Bonikowski Bart. 2009. “Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor Market: A Field Experiment.” American Sociological Review 74 (5): 777–99.
Purkiss Sharon L. Segrest, Perrewé Pamela L., Gillespie Treena L., Mayes Bronston T., and Ferris Gerald R.. 2006. “Implicit Sources of Bias in Employment Interview Judgments and Decisions.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 101 (2): 152–67.
Rosenbaum Paul R., and Rubin Donald B.. 1983. “The Central Role of the Propensity Score in Observational Studies for Causal Effects.” Biometrika 70 (1): 4155.
Ross Stephen L., Galster George C., Godfrey Erin B., Lee Seon Joo, and Zhao Bo. 2002. Discrimination in Metropolitan Housing Markets: National Results from Phase I HDS 2000. Washington, D.C.: US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Saez Emmanuel. 2009. “Details Matter: The Impact of Presentation and Information on the Take-up of Financial Incentives for Retirement Saving.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 1 (1): 204–28.
Smith Aaron W. 2010. “Government Online: The Internet Gives Citizens New Paths to Government Services and Information.” Pew Internet & American Life Project:
Smith Aaron W., Schlozman Kay L., Verba Sidney, and Brady David H.. 2009. “The Internet and Civic Engagement.” Pew Internet & American Life Project:
Vercellotti Timothy, and Andersen David. 2009. “Voter-Identification Requirements and the Learning Curve.” PS: Political Science & Politics 42 (1): 117–20.
Voter Identification Requirements . 2012. (Accessed May 2012).
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: 38
Total number of PDF views: 466 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 2053 *
Loading metrics...

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