More NVRA Nonsense

There is a concerted effort to undo one of the key reforms of the Help America Vote Act.   I’ve written about it a couple times.

First, there is the proposal of Zoe Loefgren which, unwittingly or not, put’s barriers in the way of removing voters from the voter registration rolls.

Second, the American Constitution Society published a paper from Estelle Rogers that claims that any removal of voters from the voter file based on a statewide match as laid out in HAVA was illegal.

Now comes Project Vote, who echoes the legal sentiments of Rogers.

When states remove voters merely on the basis of an interstate database match, they not only risk disenfranchising eligible citizens, they violate the NVRA.

Once again, I see a two pronged approach from the so called reformers.  Add more people to the rolls, with little regard to their eligiblity and make it increasingly difficult to remove voters.

The result will be reduced confidence that only eligible people are registered and voting and increased costs as election officials are compelled to carry voters on their rolls who are known to have moved.

November Ballot Order

We just did the drawing for ballot position among the three established political parties in the November election.  Marcia Morrison, an Urbana High School student who was the youngest person to cast a vote in the Primary election pulled the parties out of a hat.  The order of parties will be:

Republican

Green

Democratic

New political parties and independents will appear after the established political parties.

Pew Data

Yesterday afternoon, after posting the latest Pew Center report on the costs of voter registration I received the Pew spreadsheet of the costs. Since I mentioned yesterday that they hadn’t been forthcoming in providing the information, I though I ought to get it posted right away.

For the record, I first requested this data on December 28, 2009.  I received a “We’re in the process” response on January 8, 2010.  I followed up on February 18, 2010.  On February 24, 2010 I received another “We’re in the process” response.  I don’t know if yesterday’s posting was the prompt for Pew turning over the spreadsheet or if it was mere coincidence.

Of course, like the mistake made on the OCVR we don’t have independent proof of the reliability of what is being presented.

Plenty more on this topic in future days.

Pew Center Issues Updated Cost Report

I’ve written much about the battle by some to radicalize the voter registration process.  Part of the battle has been to decry the high cost of maintaining the current voter registration system.

To that end, the Pew Center issued a report in December detailing the costs of voter registration.  I’ve linked to it below.   I had serious doubts about some of the figures in the report and started to do some research.  I’m in the middle of it now, but in at least one instance Pew has now modified their report and revealed that their “real” cost estimate was inflated by 10%.  Here is the note sent to Oregon election officials.

Date: Thu, 18 Mar 2010 10:11:40 -0400
Subject: Pew updates Oregon voter registration cost study numbers

Good morning everyone:

Originally released by the Pew Center on the States in December 2009, “The Real Cost of Voter Registration: An Oregon Case Study,” noted the difficulty in determining voter registration costs and created a model—based on Oregon’s experience—for states to estimate their registration expenses. We recently received updated information from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office regarding the allocation of voter registration costs between the counties and the state. As a result of this new information and to address a miscalculation of the state’s costs, we are reducing the total amount spent on voter registration in 2008 from $9.7 million to $8.8 million in the report. These updates will result in additional adjustments including the average cost per registered voter moving to $4.11 from $4.51, and the average cost per voter registration transaction moving to $7.67 from $8.43.

Sincerely,

John Lindback

The problem that Pew is correcting is laid out in this email exchange I had with Dave Franks from the Oregon Secretary of States’ office.  It appeared, and now Pew is admitting, that some of the costs of the Oregon voter registration system were being double counted.  I caught it relatively quickly after I saw the first cost submission from an Oregon County.  The suggestion in the Lindback email is that the SOS was inaccurate, but my emails with Franks suggest a different story.

Perhaps Pew would have caught this mistake on their own, although it’s hard to believe that any organization would release a report if they still had more fact checking that they wanted to do.  That a County Clerk from Illinois could find this flaw tells me that attention to accuracy wasn’t as high on the Pew priority list as continuing to beat the drums for radical changes to our voting system.

Unfortunately, even with this correction, the information from Pew is sporadic.  I have requested, and been repeatedly denied, access to the raw data that Pew received from the Oregon counties and from the State of Oregon.  It is very simple.  Pew is in possession of 36 different submissions from the 36 Oregon counties.  Posting them to their website should be very simple.  Putting them in an e-mail to me would also seem to be simple.

I’ll address more about this report in the coming days and weeks.  Even if the data was accurate, which we now know to be untrue, the report was highly flawed.

The First Pew Report

The Second Pew Report

Citizenship Checks Denied

Yesterday, I pointed out that part of the agenda of the Committee to Modernize Registration was to automatically add people to the voter registration rolls, regardless of whether their citizenship could be demonstrated.  These voters would then remain on the rolls forever.  The only way of preventing them from voting would be to have them sign something on election day.  As I noted, I have emailed and written the Committee to ask for an analysis of all the states and whether citizenship status is tracked at their motor vehicle facilities.  I still haven’t received a response.

In this modern age, the Committee to Modernize apparently isn’t too interested in using technology to verify citizenship, instead choosing to have these noncitizens deselect themselves from the process by not showing up to vote.

The Committee certainly has supporters at the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ has been in an ongoing battle with the State of Georgia. Georgia is attempting to use  the Georgia driver’s database as well as the Social Security database to verify citizenship.  DOJ says that because of its disproportionate impact on minorities, the Georgia plan is illegal.

We  have actual evidence of the Department of Justice stepping in and denying the State of Georgia a very reasonable modernization of their own system.  I wonder if those advocates of modernization will come to the defense of the State of Georgia and whether they’ll modify their own proposal to add a citizenship check?

The Georgia case is now going to the court system.  How they fare will certainly be of interest to anyone who is looking for accuracy and integrity in our voter rolls.

It also begs the question as to what other states are doing to take advantage of databases that track citizenship.  What we know is that the advocates of “modernization” have little interest in this aspect of modernization.

Here are a variety of the documents laying out the Georgia citizenship  verification battle.

April 23, 2007 DOJ Letter

October 8, 2008 DOJ Letter

October 14, 2008 Georgia SOS Letter

December 10, 2008 Georgia SOS Letter

December 15, 2008 DOJ Letter

February 2, 2009 Georgia SOS Letter

March 24, 2009 Georgia SOS Letter

May 29, 2009 DOJ Letter

June 16, 2009 DOJ Letter

Getting Stonewalled on Citizenship Questions

I wrote last September about the issue of citizenship as it relates to the radical proposal to automatically add people to voter rolls.  At the time I mentioned that I had written an e-mail to the Committee to Modernize Registration asking what databases that would be used for this automatic registration process included information about citizenship.   My email of September 1, 2009 was not responded to.  I wrote again on November 20,2009.  Still no response.  I then followed up with a letter on February 12,  2010 to various members of the Committee to Modernize.

No one has responded.

It’s very simple.  If you’re going to suggest that we automatically add people to the voter rolls from government databases, shouldn’t you at least be able to tell the public and policy makers about the ability of those databases to tell  us who is a citizen or not?

There’s a lack of seriousness on the part of these reformers.  Lots of noise.  Lots of anecdotes about what they perceive to be wrong.  But little in the way of facts.  Heather Gerken’s Democracy Index used a couple hundred pages telling us how important data is.  But in reality, there is little evidence that reformers are interested in data.  And if they are interested, they’re not sharing any information they’ve found.

They’re aren’t too many good spins that can be put on the silence of the proponents of modernization regarding the issue of citizenship.  Perhaps the most charitable reason is that they just don’t know the answers to these questions and don’t want to admit it.  Less charitably, maybe they’re willing to put millions of noncitizens on the rolls if it means more eligible voters are added as well.  Most cynically, any number of the “reformers” might be hoping that noncitizens are put on the rolls and end up voting.

You’d think that the one thing we could agree upon is that noncitizens should not be added to the voter registration rolls.  But it appears that isn’t the case and it’s hard to imagine a consensus on reform that wouldn’t include that important element.

Election Equipment Certification Delivers Poor Results

For some people, the stamp of approval from a federal agency is the gold standard for what is good or bad. For example, in some fashion we trust our federal agencies to approve drugs and vehicles. On a state level, we trust our government to license a broad range of professions such as doctors, lawyers, and barbers.

For a decade we’ve heard about the deficiencies of various voting products. We’ve seen headlines about mistakes and legitimate and illegitimate questions raised about the validity of some election outcomes. The public may be wondering why these questions continue to be raised instead of solved. Enter certification.

Virtually every state requires the election equipment used in their state to be certified by the federal authority, the Election Assistance Commission. The EAC relies in part on the reports of organizations such as NASED. In Illinois what that means is that any given piece of election equipment will have gone through three costly certification processes.

What it also means is that after the certification no election equipment company is likely to reenter the process to make minor changes to their equipment or the software that drives it. That means that election officials and voters are often stuck with equipment with known glitches that could be removed but aren’t. Each of these glitches can be overcome and prevented through best practices and testing. But none of them can be eliminated from the system.

Here is an analogy. Imagine that you have a cardiac doctor who went through medical school, interned and assisted in some surgeries, and since being licensed has performed a hundred open heart surgeries. Now imagine that some company has produced a new clamp or scalpel that better suits the needs of cardiac surgeons. Your surgeon wants to use the new device, but is prohibited by state and federal law unless he goes back through medical school and goes back through the internship process.

That’s where we are in the election equipment and software field. Election equipment manufacturers and election officials are prevented from implementing even common sense changes to the software and hardware running elections because of the costly and lengthy certification process.

So what is the solution? Ease up on the certification process, open the source code, increase the preelection testing, and mandate post election auditing.

If you’d like some excellent reading material about this I’d suggest that you read some of the comments from the State of California’s Future of Voting page. The Open Source Digital Voting Foundation also has a sound vision for the future of election equipment. Finally, through the California site I’ve run across Mitch Trachtenberg whose two page summary from the California page is excellent. Trachtenberg also has a number of other items he’s written that are worth a read. I generally wouldn’t go as far as some advocates when it comes to redundancy and I certainly think that doing it on election night is impractical. But I really like the idea of a copy of each ballot being made for post election examination.

It’s an unfortunate irony that the costly certification process has actually resulted in less confidence in our electoral system rather than more. If we want a system that earns the trust of every voter we need to institute post election audits, more extensive testing, and a certification process that is more open and flexible.

Good Gets Better

After each election, we conduct a retabulation of 5% of our precincts pursuant to state law.  As post election audits go, it’s not much.  We’ve beefed ours up a bit by adding a redundant hand count of a race in each of the 6 precincts retabulated in Champaign County.

Each time we do this, we find a few ballots that have been irregularly marked by a voter and which don’t count correctly, either on election day or on the day of the retabulation.  For example, if you go back to the retabulation we conducted for the April 2009 election, you’ll see that we found 8 irregularly marked ballots that explain the discrepancy between the two counts.

Today, out of 1178 ballots containing 18,227 votes we found ONE ballot with ONE mark that didn’t read accurately.  That’s a voter error rate of .005%.

The full results of our retabulation are available here.

State Board Memo On Undervotes

Mark Mossman from the State Board of Elections has a memo regarding the Primary Election in the packet of information for next week’s SBE meeting in Chicago.  It points out a number of problems with the undervote law that I and other Clerks had predicted.

Most of these complaints about the under-vote process centered on how election judges administered this aspect of voting and the misinformation judges provided. For example, some judges instructed voters to vote for each office or their ballot wouldn’t be counted. In other instances, judges verbally announced which office the voter didn’t cast a vote for, thus violating the voter’s ability to secretly cast their ballot. Some complained the news media (newspaper and TV) misinformed voters and instilled fear in some voters that if they didn’t vote for each constitutional office their ballot wouldn’t be counted. A few voters that called complained this law is a violation of their constitutional rights and interferes with their most basic and fundamental right in a democratic society to east their ballot in secret. I have received a few hostile calls from voters since Election Day complaining that their constitutional rights are being violated by this law and they will no longer continue to participate in elections when statewide constitutional offices are on the ballot.

Of course, voters who think they have a constitutional right to a secret ballot won’t find much comfort from the State Board of Elections.