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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Administrators of Democracy: Implementing and Innovating Election Administration
by Barsky, Christina Sara, Ph.D., Northern Arizona University, 2020, 277; 27835591
Abstract (Summary)




Today’s electoral landscape requires administrators to operate within a context of dynamic policy, constrained resources, and emerging security threats. As such, the individuals responsible for administering American democracy work in an arena where the previous status quo is no longer appropriate and yet new structures and implementation strategies have not been codified. This raises the question as to whether election administrators are best considered policy implementers, policy innovators, or both. This study addresses the lack of a consensus concerning the motivation and actions of election administrators. By offering a new framework that expands our understanding, this dissertation explores how election administrators implement, and unexpectedly innovate, in their delivery of the democratic process.

To ground this dissertation, I begin with a discussion of the theory of street-level bureaucracy and the central tenant of discretion. Street-level theory suggests that as front-line workers, election administrators will wield discretion to simplify their jobs, make judgements about service recipients, and implement policy objectives. What street-level theory does not anticipate is bureaucratic innovation, a trait expressed by some election administrators. Next, I provide an in-depth look at election administration and the roles of election administrators in the U.S. This provides the legal and administrative backgrounding necessary to investigate election administrators.

I propose that street-level bureaucracy may not best define how the individuals responsible for the delivery of the electoral process operate, and offer civic entrepreneurship as a new way to conceptualize front-line workers. Ten semi-structured interviews with election officials and more than 1,000 Election Day worker survey responses from select Arizona counties are used to assess how election administrators perform their roles in terms of discretion, motivation, collaboration, adaptability, and innovation. In analyzing the data, I find election administrators are best considered not in terms of their job titles, but instead by their level of process discretion and distance from constituents. Ultimately, I offer a new framework for understanding election administrators as street-level bureaucrats, boundary spanners, process implementers, and civic innovators, and demonstrate how innovations occur within the austerity of today’s electoral process. I propose the need to broaden our conceptualization of the individuals on the front-line of public service, redefining street-level bureaucrats for the 21st century.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Solop, Frederic I
Commitee: Otenyo, Eric E, Phelps, Glenn A, Rinfret, Sara R
School: Northern Arizona University
Department: Politics and International Affairs
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-A 81/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Public administration, Public policy
Keywords: Civic entrepreneur, Election administration, Elections, Local election official, Poll worker, Street-level bureaucrat
Publication Number: 27835591
ISBN: 9798645473136
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