About the Project
The USC Center for Inclusive Democracy and the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy are partnering to strengthen American democracy by providing proven tools and direct assistance to ensure that the right to vote is protected and practiced.
Both idealistic and practical, this nonpartisan project provides (1) mapping tools to equitably site polling places and ballot drop boxes, (2) an innovative ballot return tool that tracks ballots cast in real time at the local level, and (3) direct assistance to local election officials that increases their frontline resources for elections. To date, all three have been proven to improve access to the polls – particularly for those who have historically faced obstacles to voting. When combined and expanded to additional states, we expect these efforts will dramatically strengthen our democracy.
The non-partisan USC Center for Inclusive Democracy, formerly the California Civic Engagement Project, has developed a new Voting Location Siting Tool to help election officials and communities identify accessible and equitable U.S. voting locations for the upcoming November 2020 General Election.
This data-driven mapping tool is particularly important, given the logistical challenges currently faced by elections officials due to the coronavirus health pandemic. These challenges include likely shifts in voting behaviors related to social distancing and government implemented shutdowns, more limited poll worker availability, and the critical need to assure poll accessibility by diverse and underserved voting populations.
First launched in California during the 2018 primary election cycle, the tool is now being made available in 10 states that represent 43% of the U.S. population:
- North Carolina
This fall, the Siting Tool will launch in four additional states: Ohio, Hawaii, Virginia and Nevada.
How does the Tool work?
The Voting Location Siting Tool uses a web-based interactive data mapping system to identify areas within a half
mile in diameter where vote centers and polling places would likely have the most success in serving voters,
especially harder-to-reach underserved voting populations. Areas are identified through a facility allocation
model that incorporates local demographic and historical voting data, which can then be customized based on
specific local needs.
What are the benefits of using the Tool?
By using data-driven decision making, the Voting Location Siting Tool takes the guesswork out of locating polling
sites and voting centers. It provides election officials a range of siting options that help assure impartial access
to the ballot box for all in the community. In addition, the Tool provides a uniquely transparent and nonpartisan way of voting site selection that the public can readily understand.
What has been the experience of those using the Tool?
The success of the Voting Location Siting Tool has been noted by many registrars and voter advocacy groups
working toward the accessible and equitable siting and implementation of voting locations. Read their testimonials
to learn more.
Developed by the Center for Inclusive Democracy (CID) at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, the Ballot Return Tool is a first-of-its-kind, data-driven interactive mapping resource for visualizing early ballots cast in real time by registered voters during an election, whether the voting is done inperson or by mail.
Using publicly available voter data, the web-based Ballot Return Tool produces visualized data maps of early ballots cast by registered voters at the county or precinct level. The technology allows users to increasingly pinpoint community-level voting activities by hovering or zooming in on a particular area or neighborhood. CID updates the maps daily as voting data is made available.
First introduced in Los Angeles County during the 2020 General Election, the Ballot Return Tool provides election officials, community advocacy groups and the general public a better way to track voting and transparently monitor voting activity, as well as plan voter services and outreach. The Tool was most recently rolled out in the state of Georgia to assist election officials and community groups there involved in voter outreach for the January 2021 U.S. Senate runoff elections.
The Ballot Return Tool is one of two web-based applications offered by CID to help election officials and voting advocates plan election-related decision making and outreach. The CID Voting Location Siting Tool—a web-based interactive data mapping system initially launched in California in 2018—is now available in 10 states. The Siting Tool helps communities identify accessible vote centers and polling places likely to have the most success serving voters. Its robust and detailed data maps have also been widely used to inform voter outreach efforts at the community level.
Democracy Funding Toolkits
In 2020, the USC Schwarzenegger Institute provided direct monetary grants to local election administration in eight states with histories of voter discrimination. The funding opened 1,047 election day polling places and set up 258 in-person early voting polling places or ballot drop boxes. Grants also supported the hiring of poll workers, implementation of COVID measures, and extended hours at polls. For example, Gwinnett County in Georgia received $100,000 for PPE and hazard pay for poll workers. In rural Appalachian counties in North Carolina, new polling places in remote parts of the mountain counties were opened.
As a result, voter turnout increased. Funded counties experienced a 6.3%-point increase in voter turnout (compared to 4.50% for unfunded counties).
This initiative is based on the success of the Democracy Grants. But, instead of a cash infusion, we will provide robust tools and support training for election administrators and community groups to advocate for increased budgets from county and state funding sources. This will be a long-term solution with lasting impact on future elections.
On September 23rd, 2020, the Schwarzenegger Institute launched the Democracy Grants for Voting Access & Election Administration. See below for the note from our Chairman Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing the launch:
Dear elections officials and good government organizations,
The United States gave me everything I have, and I believe it is my duty to repay the kindness of this country every day of my life. Everything I achieved – my bodybuilding success, my movie roles, my investments, my governorship, my family – would have been impossible anywhere but America.
I’ve read news stories about over a thousand polling locations closing around the country, even before the pandemic, and I’ve seen over and over that these closures are based on a lack of funding. As a former Governor who had to make a lot of cuts I didn’t like, I completely understand the dilemmas of a budget crunch.
As someone who has been a fanatic about voting since I became a citizen in 1983, I want every American to have equal access to the right to vote – yes, even the people who voted against me! As I read stories about counties that only have one voting location for hundreds of square miles and people who wait in line for four hours to vote, I started thinking about this more and more and realized the solution is easy. If you have a budget problem that keeps you from reopening polling stations, I want to help. I made millions because of this country, and spending my money to help my fellow Americans vote is the least I can do.
I am making grants available for local and state elections officials who want to reopen polling stations they closed because of a lack of funding. These grants are completely non-partisan and will be offered to those who demonstrate the greatest need and ability to close gaps in voting access. I don’t care if you are an independent authority, a Democratic elections official, or a Republican elections official – I just don’t want a single American to lose their ability to vote because of a lack of funding. I think this could be one of the best investments I have ever made.
You can apply for the grants right now, and we will be getting the money out as fast as possible. I know the next month is crucial for setting up this infrastructure, so please apply as soon as you can. You can fill out the form here: https://www.pollingaccessgrants.org. We will get back to you within a week.
Thank you for your consideration. I hope this can be a win for all of the fantastic citizens of our country.
- Cameron County, Texas – Funding to support the opening of polling super centers, curbside voting and early voting
- Douglas County, Georgia – Funding to support advanced/early and Election Day poll workers in order to operate polling sites
- Surry County, North Carolina – Funding to support the hiring of one-stop and Election Day poll workers in order to operate polling sites
- Warren County, North Carolina – Funding to support hiring one-stop and Election Day poll workers in order to operate polling sites
- Barnwell County, South Carolina – Funding to support additional poll workers
- Muscogee County, Georgia – Funding to support in-person advance/early voting polling sites, in-person election day voting sites, PPE, and hiring new poll workers
- Nelson County, Virginia – Funding to support election day polling sites
- Young County, Texas – Funding to support poll workers
- Hertford County, North Carolina – Funding to support polling sites and PPE at polling sites
- Chatham County, Georgia – Funding to support hiring new poll workers, PPE for polling sites, and space for polling sites
- Craig County, Virginia – Funding to support 38 election day and absentee processing workers and other support for polling sites
- Gwinnett County, Georgia – Funding to support additional hazard pay for additional poll workers
- Hinds County, Mississippi – Funding to support poll workers at election day polling sites and PPE
- Lamar County, Georgia – Funding to double the number of ballot drop boxes from 1 to 2
- Richmond County, Virginia – Funding to support changes to polling sites to speed check-in and shorten lines
- Buchanan County, Virginia – Funding to support polling sites and PPE for poll workers
- Colleton County, South Carolina – Funding to support hazard pay for new poll workers and polling site locations
- James City County, Virginia – Funding to support hiring more poll workers to increase voter access
- Perry County, Alabama – Funding to open 4 new COVID-safe portable polling sites
- Taliaferro County, Georgia – Funding to support PPE for poll workers and polling site locations
- Wythe County, Virginia – Funding to support polling sites for increasing voter access
- Clayton County, Georgia – Funding to open 7 new election day polling places. Funds also support poll workers, absentee ballot processing, line management, and other support to reduce wait times and increase voter access
- Early County, Georgia – Funding to support additional poll workers for advance voting and election day voting
- Greene County, North Carolina – Funding for 1 new physical polling place, to support poll workers, and to hire 35 new election day and one-stop workers
- Lee County, Georgia – Funding to support additional poll workers in two new polling places opened in county
- Onslow County, North Carolina – Funding for new poll workers, to support the opening of one new polling place, and PPE for poll workers
- Swain County, North Carolina – Funding to support hiring more poll workers to increase polling access
- Graham County, North Carolina – Funding to support additional poll workers
- Haywood County, North Carolina – Funding to support 11 new part-time poll workers to help at polls and with absentee ballot processing
- Jackson County, North Carolina – Funding to support one-stop and election day poll workers and 6 new absentee by-mail return centers
- Maricopa County, Arizona – Funding to support the opening 14 new drive-through ballot drop-box centers at sports stadiums and other large venues the weekend before election day
- McDowell County, North Carolina – Funding to support additional poll workers
- Randolph County, Georgia – Funding to support additional poll workers to avoid poll closures
The Center for Inclusive Democracy (CID), formerly known as the California Civic Engagement Project, is part of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and is based in Sacramento. CID conducts a range of national and multi-state research initiatives exploring voting behavior, civic engagement, electoral and economic research, the intersection of social justice and democracy, and more. Its research informs and empowers a wide range of policy and organizing efforts aimed at eliminating disparities in social and economic well-being. Now a cornerstone project nested within CID’s larger umbrella, the California Civic Engagement Project continues to produce groundbreaking resources and research for California.
For more information about the Voting Location Siting Tool, the Ballot Return Tool, or the Center for Inclusive Democracy (CID), contact Mindy Romero, CID Director, at [email protected].
The USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy is committed to advancing post-partisanship, where state and global leaders work together to establish best practices in policymaking regardless of political party. Through research, conferences, and advocacy the Institute seeks to inform public policy and debate to confront serious challenges to our society including climate change, political reform, and education.
For more information about the Democracy Grants Initiative or the Schwarzenegger Institute, contact Christian Grose, Academic Director, at [email protected].
The USC Sol Price School of Public Policy’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people and their communities, here and abroad. The School achieves this mission through education and research that promote innovative solutions to the most critical issues facing society. For nearly 90 years, the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy has earned the public trust by creating path-breaking research and scholarship.