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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Friday, December 24
 
Early Returns on Election 2004
Some very useful information and reasoned analysis of the 2004 election is starting to come in. Scripps Howard News Service reports here on the impact of the new voting technology deployed in many states. This report finds that the replacement of antiquated voting systems like the "hanging chad" punch card resulted in a substantial decrease in the number of uncounted or "residual" votes -- the sum of undervotes (for which no vote in the presidential race was registered) and overvotes (for which more than one choice for that office was registered resulting in invalidation of the ballot). Nationwide, the residual vote rate decreased from about 2% in 2000 to 1% in 2004.

Florida was among the states that showed dramatic improvement. The Sunshine State replaced its older voting equipment -- including punch cards and central-count optical scans -- with electronic and precinct-count optical scan systems. The result was a marked decrease in the number of uncounted votes, down from 178,145 in 2000 to 30,509 in 2004 (or, in percentage terms, from a 2.9% residual vote rate to a 0.4% residual vote rate).

Meanwhile, the State of Ohio, in which about 70% of voters still use punch cards, unsurprisingly showed almost no improvement. Scripps Howard reports that "96,580 ballots in the Buckeye State failed to register a presidential vote this year, up from 93,991 four years ago," although the percentage of uncounted votes declined slightly. Secretary of State Ken Blackwell attempts, quite unconvincingly, to suggest that intentional undervoting (i.e., the deliberate choice not to mark either candidate) may be to blame. Not so. Intentional undervoting generally runs around 0.3-0.7% in presidential races, far below Ohio's 1.7% uncounted vote rate. Moreover, states like Florida and Georgia that got rid of their antiquated equipment -- most notably the punch card -- saw marked improvements. Bad voting machines are certainly not the only source of lost votes, but they're a significant one.

In a related story, the National Association of Secretaries of State has issued this summary of survey results, on how federal HAVA money was spent. It reports that 96% of states received their FY 2003 funding and that 74% received their FY 2004 funding. The study also shows that the bulk of HAVA monies are going towards new voting equipment and the mandatory statewide registration database, which must be in place by the 2006 elections. One-third of the states will spend between 60% and 90% on equipment, while one-fifth will spend 70% on the registration database. The creation of these databases is a major issue to watch in the coming year.

Finally, electionline.org has released this briefing paper on the 2004 election, which observes that election-related problems received less attention this year than four years ago because the margin of victory exceeded the "margin of litigation" in the key swing states. Put another way, the problems that those states experienced didn't result in enough questionable votes to affect the outcome. The report points out that this doesn't mean that Election 2004 was without problems. It summarizes some of the most significant issues, including provisional ballots, voting equipment, and statewide registration databases. The report contains the first summary I've seen of what percentage of provisional ballots were counted in some key states -- and shows wide and disturbing variations from state to state, suggesting that the implementation of this requirement is anything but uniform.

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