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
Dan Tokaji's Blog
- Election Law Blog (Rick Hasen)
- Election Updates (Michael Alvarez & Thad Hall)
- Votelaw Blog (Ed Still)
- Leave it to the Lower Courts: On Judicial Intervention in Election Administration, 68 Ohio State Law Journal 1065 (2007)
- The New Vote Denial: Where Election Reform Meets the Voting Rights Act, 57 South Carolina Law Review 689 (2006)
- Early Returns on Election Reform: Discretion, Disenfranchisement, and the Help America Vote Act, 73 George Washington Law Review 1206 (2005)
Thursday, June 30
What Will the Carter-Baker Commission Recommend?
The Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform met in Houston, Texas today to hear testimony on registration, identification, voting technology and election managment. The agenda with testimony from participants can be found here, and the AP has this report. (Disclosure: I'm an academic advisor to the commission, but have not been part of its deliberations and have no inside information on what it's likely to recommend.)
Former President Carter took a long view of the committee's objectives, reportedly observing that, "It may be a long time before all the recommendations we make are seriously considered." Of those appearing before the commission today, the testimony of the following is especially worthy of attention:
- Michael Alvarez of Caltech, who identifies the need for improvement of registration systems, suggests ways in which those systems might be improved, and recommends that provisional ballots be counted if cast in the incorrect precinct;
- Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, noting that HAVA's success can't fully be judged until after several election cycles and that there's a reluctance to enact new legislation on the part of some key members of Congress, but that there's also a need to propose "comprehensive change" rather than "piecemeal action" on election reform; and
- Don Simon emphasizing the need for nonpartisan (rather than bipartisan) election administration, based on experience with the Federal Election Commission.
So what will the commission ultimately recommend? I don't know for sure, but I suspect that the big recommendations to come out of the commission will be 1) to require some sort of contemporaneous paper record for electronic voting machines, and 2) to create a national voter ID system and registration database to go with it. The first would be a concession to the more "liberal" members of the commission concerned with the possibility of voting machines being hacked; the second to the more "conservative" members of the commission who are concerned with voting fraud.
While I'll withhold judgment until seeing the commission's ultimate findings and recommendations, a compromise along those lines would be most unfortunate from the perspective of voting equality. I've explained on multiple occasions why requiring a contemporaneous paper record for electronic voting is a very bad idea, most recently here and here. Legislating such a requirement will discourage conversion to the best available technology -- particularly from the perspective of racial minorities, people with disabilities and non-English speakers -- while locking in a device that may not be workable or effective, much less optimal.
Civil rights groups are understandably worried about the impact that a national voter ID would have. See this statement to the commission from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, noting the unnecessary barriers to voting that such a requirement would create and the prospect of discriminatory enforcement. The obstacles to voting, clearly presented by photo ID laws recently enacted in Georgia and Indiana, might be mitigated by pairing national voter registration with universal registration as Rick Hasen proposes in a forthcoming article. Even so, a national ID would raise privacy concerns. Even if the ID is supposed to be used for voting initially, what will happen when and if another terrorist attack occurs? Can we really confine the use of national ID to voting? As the Leadership Conference argues, a national ID could be a slippery slope to a surveillance society, with authorities demanding "Let me see your ID" for no reason. Racial and ethnic minorities are most likely to bear the brunt of such law enforcement actions.
We'll have to wait and see what the commision comes up with, but there are reasons for concern that this particular way of splitting the baby between liberals and conservatives -- giving the former a "voter verified" paper trail and the latter national voter ID -- could be the worst of all possible worlds. I hope my prediction is wrong.
Wednesday, June 29
Hoyer's Fix-HAVA Bill
Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has introduced a bill that would deal with one of the major ambiguities of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, relating to provisional voting. Rep. Hoyer was one of HAVA's two principal co-sponsors in the House. The "Secure America's Vote Act of 2005" (H.R. 3094) would amend HAVA to clarify that provisional ballots cast out of precinct should count, at least for those federal contests in which the voter was eligible to participate.
The "wrong precinct" issue was the source of considerable controversy leading up to the November 2004 election, and gave rise to litigation in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio. HAVA requires that voter's be permitted to cast a provisional ballot if they certify that they are eligible to vote in the "jurisdiction," and that that provisional ballot be counted if the voter is eligible under state law. In the pre-election lawsuits, the primary issue in contention was the meaning of "jurisdiction." Those seeking to have provisional votes counted if cast in the wrong precinct argued that this term refers to the entity maintaining voting lists -- usually the state or county. This is how the term "registrar's jurisdiction" is defined under the National Voter Registration Act (the NVRA, aka, "Moter Voter").
The text of Hoyer's bill doesn't appear to be available yet, but according to this report, it would require that provisional votes for federal office be counted if cast in the correct county or township as of 2006. By 2008, provisional votes for federal office would have to be counted if cast in the correct state.
This is the consistent with the original vision for provisional voting articulated by the bipartisan Carter-Ford Commission. The commission's final report, which formed the basis for much of HAVA, envisioned provisional voting as a way of making sure that no qualified voter was turned away from a polling place anywhere in his or her state of residence. It cited with approval states such as California and Washington, which use provisional voting to satisfy the "fail-safe" voting requirements of the NVRA. Under the commission's recommendation, provisional ballots should be counted if the individual is "eligible and qualified to vote within the state," though only for those contests in which the voter is qualifed to vote.
The Carter-Ford Commission expressly tied its provisional voting recommendation to both the NVRA and statewide voter registration lists. Once those lists are in place next year, it should be an easy matter to verify eligibility, and thus to count provisionals even if they're cast in the wrong precinct.
My take: While I've not seen the text of Rep. Hoyer's bill, he's got the right idea. Enacting this legislation would clarify a major ambiguity -- and source of litigation -- in HAVA, and would move federal law closer to the bipartisan Carter-Ford Commission's vision. Let's hope the Carter-Baker Commission, which is meeting in Houston on Thursday, follows the worthy example of its predecessor and endorses this important reform.
Tuesday, June 28
Carter-Baker Commission Hearing
This Thursday, June 30, will be a busy day for election reform. In addition to the EAC hearing on voting system guidelines noted below, the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform will be having a public hearing in Houston, Texas. The agenda is here. There will be panels on voter registration, identification and participation, voting technology, and election management. Testifying on the voting technology panel will be Dan Wallach, whose analysis of electronic voting for the DNC's Ohio report I discussed here.
EAC Releases Voting System Guidelines
The Election Assistance Commission yesterday released for public comment its draft voting system guidelines. The guidelines include this section on security, which contains what would be the first federal standards for optional "voter verified paper audit trail" devices. If approved, the new guidelines would go into effect in October 2005. The guidelines would be "voluntary" in the sense that states are not obligated to adopt them, although 36 states have chosen to require federal certification. The press release accompanying the guidelines notes that they will be discussed at the EAC's public meeting on June 30 in New York City, and that comments will be accepted for 90 days.
Monday, June 27
The DNC's Voting Machine Findings
Last week, the Democratic National Committee issued a lengthy report on the 2004 election in Ohio, entitled "Democracy at Risk." The report makes for difficult reading, largely because different parts are written by different authors, who each employ their own formats and modes of exposition. This results in some schizophrenia, as the different parts of the report aren't coordinated with one another, and they vary considerably in quality.
This is particularly true of the two sections of the report dealing with voting technology. The first is an empirical study by Walter R. Mebane, Jr. and Michael C. Herron. Their analysis finds no evidence to support claims that widespread fraud systematically misallocated votes from Kerry to Bush. Included in this portion of the report is what seems to be a thorough analysis of the performance of different types of voting equipment used in Ohio's 2004 election: punch cards, central-count optical scan, precinct-count optical scan, and direct record electronic (DRE) systems. This section is rough sledding for the casual reader, but includes some interesting findings.
Like prior studies, the report finds that there were more overvotes and undervotes (collectively known as "residual votes") in places using punch card ballots. The median uncounted vote rate of punch cards was 1.64%, compared to less than 1% for the other types of equipment. Mebane & Herron find that the residual vote rate was higher in polling places with fewer machines. This makes sense, since those polling places are more likely to be crowded, and voters are thus less likely to check their work carefully.
The report also identifies a number of "outlier" precincts, ones in which there were substantially more residual votes than in others using the same "kind" of voting technology. I put "kind" in parentheses because, although the report considers DRE voting machines all of one "kind," there are different models in use. Franklin County (Columbus area), for example, uses older "full-face" DREs, while Mahoning County (Youngstown area) uses newer "touchscreen" DREs. The report finds a large number of "outlier" precincts in Franklin County with high residual votes, which I suspect is because of the older machines used there -- as well as the long lines which plagued polls in that county, due to the inadequate number of machines provided.
There's only one county in Ohio reported as having used a precinct-count optical scan system. That county is Allen, a small- to mid-sized county (less than 50,000 votes), which had a relatively low residual vote rate. The reported median was 0.76%, which approaches the lower boundary of what's feasible, given that some voters in every election intentionally choose not to cast a vote for President.
This thorough empirical analysis contrasts with the other section on voting technology, written by Dan S. Wallach. This is the weakest part of the DNC report, providing no new information about Ohio's 2004 election -- but instead reflecting, it would appear, the preconceptions of its author. Wallach was one of the co-authors of the report on the code used in Diebold machines, which galvanized opposition to electronic voting, but didn't take into consideration the actual circumstances in which the voting system was implemented. (See here for more on the shortcomings of that report. ) As should be obvious, one can't intelligently analyze or compare voting systems without carefully examining how the technology is being implemented.
Unfortunately, Wallach's report for the DNC almost completely disregards the facts regarding Ohio's implementation of electronic voting. He doesn't, for example, discuss any of the measures that Ohio has already has taken to promote DRE security. One might well conclude that these steps are inadequate, but a serious report would at least discuss them.
Instead, Wallach's section begins with the dubious assertion that "many studies [of residual vote rates] have concluded that the new DRE voting systems are less accurate than more traditional optical scan ballots," and a bit later says "[m]any studies of residual voting rates compared to voting technologies, including the DNC's study of Ohio, have shown that the lowest residual votes occur with precinct-count optical scan systems." There are no citations to authority anywhere in Wallach's section of the report, so it's hard to say what studies he's referring to.
The evidence that does exist belies Wallach's unsupported assertions. A report by Charles Stewart of MIT found that, between 2000 and 2004, the steepest drop in residual vote rates occurred in counties switching from punch cards to DREs (1.46%); this drop was bigger than in counties that moved to optical scan (1.12%). Counties that went from optical scan to DREs saw a decrease in their residual vote rate (1.26%).
There are two other problems with Wallach's claims. First, there are hardly any studies I know of which disaggregate the performance of central-count and precinct-count optical scan systems. Second, despite Wallach's assertion regarding the performance of "new" DREs, most of the available evidence doesn't separate older full-face models from newer touchscreen models. It's therefore misleading at best to suggest that the evidence to support the conclusion that precinct-count optical scans do better than newer electronic machines -- although there is evidence that at least some older DREs had higher residual vote rates.
The only study I know of to disaggregate the different types of optical scan and DRE machines is this one by political scientists David Kimball and Martha Kropf. That study finds that precinct-count optical scan and newer DREs had the same residual vote rates in 2004 (0.8%) nationwide. Older DRE machines performed slightly worse (1.2%), with central count optical scans, punch cards, and hand counted paper ballots all performing significantly worse (1.5%, 1.8%, and 2.0% respectively).
The Ohio statistics set forth in Mebane & Herron's section don't really support Wallach's assertions, since they include only one precinct-count optical scan county (Allen), and a relatively small one at that, and they don't disaggregate older and newer DRE systems. Wallach also fails to mention research finding that electronic voting reduces the racial gap in uncounted votes, but that the evidence on precinct-count optical scan is more ambiguous (see this study by Michael Tomz & Robert P. Van Houweling).
Wallach proceeds to endorse the requirement that electronic voting systems be required to produce a contemporaneous paper record (aka, "voter verified paper audit trail") of the electronic vote. Not only does he ignore the practical problems with such a device; incredibly, he doesn't note that Ohio already has a law requiring that voting machines generate a contemporaneous paper record. Wallach also gives short shrift to the disability access issue, endorsing a hybrid DRE/optical scan system that wouldn't allow people with visual and manual dexterity impairments to vote without assistance.
Instead of dealing with the evidence, Wallach parrots the arguments that advocates of the contemporaneous paper record have been making, without seriously addressing any of the opposing arguments. Most remarkably, this section of the report doesn't really talk about what happened in Ohio at all, including the headaches which have arisen as a direct result of the legislature's decision to mandate a contemporaneous paper record, discussed here.
In short, Wallach's section of the report is great for those interested in arguments unencumbered by the facts; not so great for those who are interested in taking a serious look at how voting technology has performed, both in Ohio and elsewhere, and how it might be improved. It would be a shame if the other sections of the report, which appear to reflect a more careful analysis of what actually happened in Ohio, were tarnished by the slipshod character of this section.
Wednesday, June 22
DNC Report on Ohio Election
The Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute has issued this report on problems in Ohio's 2004 election. Among its findings:
- 28% of voters in the state reported some type of problem in voting,
- twice as many African Americans as whites reported problems at the polls,
- voters using "touchscreen" machines reported problems at a higher rate than other voters (note that this actually includes Franklin County, which didn't actually use a touchscreen system but an older form of direct record electronic technology ... and didn't have nearly enough in the election, resulting in the longest lines in the state),
- provisional ballots were "overused" (their term, not mine), with new registrants and voters who'd moved, not surprisingly, more likely to cast provisional ballots,
- election officials weren't always aware of the rules regarding provisional voting, with some failing to offer provisional ballots to voters who were entitled to them -- also not surprising, given the incomplete direction that the Secretary of State's office gave and the court orders on the subject leading up to the election,
- ID requirements were "illegally" administered, with African Americans more likely than whites to be asked to show ID,
- there were significant problems in processing new registrations, and
- people in counties using punch card and central-count optical scan voting equipment were less likely to have their votes counted (again, not a big surprise, although the report oddly finds the numbers with respect to central-count optical scan "unexpected" -- which shouldn't be the case for anyone who's looked at the numbers in past Ohio elections).
I'll have more on this after I've had a chance to more carefully review the report.
Tuesday, June 21
Today's Senate Hearing, and the Daily Kos
The Senate Rules & Administration Committee heard testimony today on the auditability of electronic voting. Computerworld has this report. The committee heard from MIT's Ted Selker, L.A. County Registrar Conny McCormack, the American Association of People with Disabilities' Jim Dickson, Stanford's David Dill, and Senator John Ensign. The first three are opponents of legislation that would require electronic voting machines to generate a contemporaneous paper record (CPR, aka, the "voter verified paper audit trail"), while the last two are proponents. The witness list and their prepared statements can be found here.
Computerworld's report suggests that the committee's chair Republican Trent Lott and its ranking Democrat Chris Dodd are both skeptical, to say the least, of proposals to require a CPR. Sen. Lott cited the added complexity that would result from a printer add-on -- the more complicated you make a voting system, the more things can go wrong. Sen. Dodd noted the CPR's inaccessibility to people with visual impairments who, with contemporary paperless systems, can verify their votes through an audio component.
Also worth a look is this post on today's hearings in the Daily Kos. Aside from the photos, the post is notable not for its insight but rather for its exemplification of some of the common misconceptions of some CPR proponents. The post by DC Pol Sci takes both the AAPD's Dickson and Sen. Dodd to task for opposing CPR legislation. Here's a sample:
[Dickson] claims that any attempt to "tamper" with the provisions of the Help America Vote Act will hurt the disabled. From his testimony: "The disability and civil rights communities oppose opening up HAVA for any amendments."Count me among the civil rights advocates who believe that every vote should count and largely for that reason think federal legislation to require a CPR is a terrible idea. There's no serious question that HAVA's provisions for upgrading voting technology have saved hundreds of thousands of votes. One study found that a million votes were saved by moving to new technology and better procedures in 2004. States like Georgia, which moved to paperless electronic voting statewide, saw huge drops in the percentage of uncounted ballots, particularly in heavily minority precincts. So, actually, the civil rights rights community -- at least those of us who care about every vote counting -- has pretty good reasons for supporting the transition to electronic voting.
WHICH civil rights community?!? Certainly not the ones who advocate every vote counting....
Why might adding a CPR to electronic voting units be a problem? Even putting aside the unrealistic transition date of 2006 being proposed by some CPR advocates (which I discussed in this comment), the likely effect of such a requirement would be to compel states to stick with inferior paper-based equipment. This can best be seen by looking at what's happened in states that have legislated a CPR requirement. In California, the CPR requirement has led the state's -- and for that matter the nation's -- largest county of Los Angeles to stand pat with a non-notice optical scan system. It's a step up from the punch card, but results in many more lost votes than paperless electronic systems. And in Ohio, which also legislated a CPR requirement, virtually every county in the state decided to stick with the bad old "hanging chad" punch card in the 2004 election. It wasn't enough votes to have made the difference, but had the election been closer ... flashback to Florida 2000.
Because of their CPR laws, states like Ohio and California are running a real risk of not complying with HAVA's 2006 deadlines for the implementation of accessible voting technology and (for those which took federal funds) the replacement of punch card and lever voting machines. Notwithstanding the regrettably typical and patronizing tone of the Daily Kos comment -- which suggests that committed disability advocates like Jim Dickson really don't know what's good for them -- the disability community has legitimate reasons to be concerned. It's quite likely that technology allowing visually and manually impaired people to vote independently won't be in place by this deadline, if a CPR requirement is imposed.
None of this is to deny that there are genuine risks with electronic voting. It is instead to question whether strapping a printer onto electronic voting machines is the best way to deal with those concerns -- as opposed to better testing and certification procedures, parallel monitoring (where random machines are taken out of service and tested on election day), and maintaining a chain of custody for software and voting units. These measures aren't as sexy as paper. They require an understanding of the voting process that would make most bloggers' eyes glaze over. But they are likely to be much more workable and effective than a CPR, without compromising anyone's voting rights.
This leads me to the most stupefying remark in today's Daily Kos post, a comment on Sen. Dodd's opposition to the CPR requirement:
*Dodd* is against a voter-verified paper audit trail. Why? Well, he wrote what became HAVA, and he says that it's not necessary; that HAVA itself requires enough accountability. Guess ol' Chris is committed to our being in the minority for the foreseeable future...(emphasis added)Huh? Assuming that the "our" here refers to the Democrats, the implication is that Dodd's unwillingness to reopen HAVA is what will keep Democrats from winning election. Maybe this is a joke, but if not ... well, the writer is living in Wonderland.
That's not only because the transition to electronic voting has reduced the number of uncounted votes, particularly in minority communities -- a constituency we'd expect the Democrats to care a great deal about. It's also because the likely consequence of reopening HAVA would be to undo the balance between access and integrity struck by that legislation, and isn't likely to do much good for Democrats' core constituencies. Part of the HAVA compromise was a limited ID requirements, which is applicable only to first-time voters who registered by mail and which doesn't require photo ID.
If HAVA is reopened, given the current composition of Congress, the ID requirement isn't likely to be relaxed, but made stricter. Anyone who's been following election administration developments since the 2004 election knows that the "reform" that Republicans are most vigorously pursuing is to impose stringent photo ID laws. As I noted here and here, such requirements would hit seniors, people with disabilities, poor people, and people of color hardest.
So what's the likely effect of reopening HAVA? The Democrats might get a CPR requirement, which would be detrimental to voting rights; and in exchange, the Republicans would get a stricter ID requirement, which would be destructive to voting rights. A bad deal all around, if you ask me.
Monday, June 20
A California Calamity in the Making?
With a 2006 deadline looming, California faces the prospect of failing to comply with HAVA's disability access requirements and having to pay back millions in federal funds. The Oakland Tribune has this story on the deliberations of the state's Voting Systems & Procedures Panel, regarding a Diebold electronic voting system.
California is among the states facing three different mandates. First, because it received federal funds under Title I of HAVA, it must replace its punch card machines by 2006. California already got rid of its Votomatic-style punch cards in 2004, in the face of a federal court order, but a number of counties are still using the Datavote system which must also be replaced as a condition of receiving federal funds. Second, under Title III of HAVA, the state must have a disability-accessible unit at each polling place by 2006. Third, as the result of a directive by former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and a statute enacted last year, every electronic voting machine must generate a contemporaneous paper record (the so called "voter verified paper audit trail") by 2006.
Several California counties are already using paperless Diebold voting machines. Trouble is, a lot of folks aren't very happy with the paper trail device being marketed by Diebold:
The paper-trail printer failed badly and jammed in initial state tests. A new round of tests in early June on a more refined, "pre-production" unit went smoothly, though state testers noted that it still makes ratcheting sounds "like a New Year's noisemaker" and uses temporary, thermal paper.Disability activists are also unhappy with the Diebold machine, on the grounds that its accessibility features aren't adequate for people with visual and manual impairments. Another vendor's answer to the paper trail mandate -- the ES&S Automark -- presents problems of its own, since visually and mobility impaired voters would require assistance to use it. The ultimate result may be that at least some California countires are placed a situation where they can't, as a practical matter comply with all three of the mandates that they're facing.
My take: California's problems should give pause to legislators considering federal legislation that would require electronic voting machines to generate a contemporaneous paper record. The new Holt Bill (H.R. 550) described here would require such a record by 2006, and the Senate Rules & Administration Committee will be holding a hearing on the issue tomorrow. The experience of the Golden State demonstrates what havoc this bill would wreak on the nation's election system.
The perfect is the enemy of the good -- and can sometimes result in the sort of "train wreck" that California is now facing.
Correction: The VSPP did not certify the Diebold system at its last meeting, but has not yet decided whether or not to certify it. It will take written comments until June 30 and make a decision after that. I've corrected the second sentence above, which previously stated erroneously that the VSPP had made a decision not to approve the system.
Thursday, June 16
Electronic Voting Developments
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, to consider the issue of "voter verification" for electronic voting systems. The agenda is posted here. The panelists will be Ted Selker of MIT, L.A. County Registrar Conny McCormack, Jim Dickson of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and David Dill of Stanford. The hearing comes amid calls by some voting activists to enact the new version of the Holt Bill (H.R. 550), which would require electronic voting machines to generate a contemporaneous paper record.
At present, there are no standards in place for the contemporaneous paper record, as I noted in this comment. The most recent federal guidelines, which took effect in 2002, don't contain standards for these devices. However, EPIC has now posted on its website a draft of new standards, which it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. This draft includes proposed standards for the contemporaneous paper record, aka "voter verified paper audit trail." Though this device isn't required by federal law, the voluntary federal standards would provide guidance on what these devices should do, for states that choose to adopt them. These standards are to be considered by the Election Assistance Commission later this month.
Ohio is one of the states to have enacted laws requiring that electronic voting machines generate a contemporaneous paper record. Counties that are still using punch cards -- 68 in all -- must replace this equipment by the 2006 federal elections, and have the option of going to either precinct-count optical scan or electronic voting machines with a contemporaneous paper record. Secretary of State Blackwell issued a directive on April 14, requiring that counties choose their new voting system by May. That date has now been extended until September 15, as the result of a lawsuit in which 32 counties joined. The only electronic system that's certified and meets the paper trail requirement is one made by Diebold. It's possible, though not certain, that one other voting machine capable of generating a contemporaneous paper record (made by ES&S) will have been certified by September. For coverage of the most recent developments, see stories from the Tiffin Advertiser-Tribune, Lima News, and Demos.
Wednesday, June 15
More on Ohio's Election Bill
The Ohio Senate's Rules Committee today held a second day of hearings on the omnibus election bill that the House passed last month. The big question is what the committee will do on voter ID.
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer has this story on a report finding only four cases of prosecutable fraud in the 2004 election. The report by the Ohio League of Women Voters and the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) is based on interviews of election officials in the 88 counties in the state. This calls to question whether there's any legitimate purpose served by voter ID laws -- or whether the real effect will be to impose barriers to eligible voters.
On that subject, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has this story on a study by University of Wisconsin researchers on the likely impact of a proposed law to require photo ID. That study found that 78% of African-American males between 18 and 24 lack a driver's license. The study also found that a large number of seniors -- over 177,000 -- lacked any photo ID. The study supports the claim that a photo ID requirement would have a greater impact on elderly and minority voters.
Also being debated in Ohio is a provision of the House bill that would allow "no excuse" absentee voting by mail. The Akron Beacon-Journal has this report on the issue of whether in-person early voting is a better choice. The difference is that in-person early voting preserves the secrecy and anonymity of the ballot. By contrast, with mail-in voting, there can be no guarantee that the voter's choices are really her own, or that the ballot has been marked privately. Mail-in voting thus opens up the opportunity for coercion, or even for vote buying and selling, which is effectively impossible with in-person voting.
Update: The Wisconsin ID study by John Pawasarat of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee can be found here, and the COHHIO-LWV Ohio report is available here. My testimony to the Ohio Senate Rules Committee on the election bill is here.
Tuesday, June 14
Sparks Fly on Ohio Election Bill
The Ohio Senate Rules Committee held a hearing today on a bill that would overhaul the state's election laws. The State House has already passed the bill (Sub H.B. 3). Among the changes in the version approved by the House are to require that provisional ballots be cast in the correct precinct in order to be counted, to eliminate party challengers at the polling place, to permit "no fault" absentee voting, and to eliminate contests in federal elections. My House testimony on the bill is available here.
The most noteworthy development in today's hearing was the acrimony between the Republican and Democratic members of the Rules Committee, to which the bill has been assigned. Senator Jacobson, the vice-chair of the committee, repeatedly interrupted Senator Theresa Fedor on the ground that her questioning was out of compliance with the rules, leading her to walk out of the hearing. Later in the afternoon, Democrat committee members asked Republican members whether a substitute bill was in the works. The Republicans' responses made clear that there had been discussion of an amended bill, but that none of the Democrats had seen any such amendments.
Among the rumored amendments are provisions that would impose a stricter ID requirement and that would disenfranchise felons who have completed their sentences (presently eligible to vote under Ohio law). But Republican committee members weren't providing any specifics about exactly what's in store. The AP has this story, apparently written before today's hearing, on the possibility of a photo ID requirement.
Stay tuned. Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 9:00 am. Expect more fireworks.
Monday, June 13
Back in the Saddle
With my vacation over and exams finally graded, it's back to the wonderful world of election administration. The big developments over the past few weeks have been in three areas: voting technology, registration databases, and voter ID. All three promise to be of continuing interest through the 2006 elections. Here's a brief rundown:
Voting Technology. States that received money under Title I of HAVA continue to struggle to meet its requirement that punch cards and lever machines be replaced by the 2006 election cycle. In addition, all jurisdictions throughout the country must have at least one unit accessible to people with disabilities at each polling place by 2006. The Election Center released this report containing recommendations from state and local election officials. Among its recommendations are that states adopt the voluntary voting system standards to be issued soon (hopefully) by the Election Assistance Commission. The EAC has a public meeting and hearing scheduled for June 30, 2006, at which the proposed guidelines and comments on the "voter verified paper audit trail"will be discussed. Meanwhile, activists lobbied House members late last week in support of the new Holt Bill (H.R. 550), which would require that all electronic voting machines generate a contemporaneous paper record of the electronic vote. I'll have more on this in a comment tomorrow.
Statewide Registration Databases. Another key HAVA requirement is that each state have in place by 2006 a central registration database that tracks all voters throughout the state. A briefing paper by electionline.org summarizes where states are in this process. The databases that will actually be implemented in the states will be anything but uniform, according the electionline.org report, with some adopting for a "top-down" approach (in which the database is principally maintained at the state level) and others opting for a "bottom-up" approach (in which local election authorities maintain principal responsibility for maintaining list and entering changes). About 38 states will adopt a top-down approach, six a bottom-up approach, with two adopting a mixture of both and three states yet to finalize their plans (yikes!). The companies in the database market include voting machine makers ES&S, Hart InterCivic, and Diebold, as well as IBM and Accenture.
Voter Identification. The issue of whether to require a photo ID for all voters has sparked the most bitterly partisan debate to emerge since the 2004 election, with Republicans calling for a stricter ID requirement to curb fraud and Democrats asserting that such a requirement would disenfranchise the most vulnerable voters. Among the state to have enacted strict voter ID requirements are Indiana and Georgia, with a proposal to require voter ID likely to surface in Ohio, when the state senate takes up an omnibus election reform bill (Sub. HB 3) that the House has already passed. The present version of the bill simply doesn't change the law on voter ID, but expect Senate Republicans to make an aggressive move to impose a more stringent requirement when it's considered by the Rules Committee this week. Hearings are set for tomorrow and Wednesday.