Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An Integrity Metric for Pew

In their Elections Performance Index report, Pew notes the lack of performance indicators for integrity, which, along with convenience, were the two measurements that drove their ratings system.
Throughout the development process, it was apparent that indicators measuring the convenience of voting were much more abundant than indicators measuring security and integrity. This fact represents the current state of election data. Because of the intense policy interest in the security and integrity of elections, working with the elections community to develop a more robust set of integrity-related indicators is a priority of the EPI project moving forward.
If they're truly looking for integrity measurements moving forward, I've got a suggestion to get them started that will serve the cause of integrity and perhaps drive election administrators to comply with the law.

In the 2002 Help America Vote Act, Republicans fought to insert language requiring election officials to access their state Secretary of State database and the Social Security database to confirm the identity of registrants and to ensure that data is present to track voters across county lines to prevent multiple registrations.


(a) Computerized Statewide Voter Registration List Requirements.--

(5) Verification of voter registration information.--
                    (A) Requiring provision of certain information by applicants.--

(ii), notwithstanding any other provision of law, an application for voter registration for an 
      election for Federal office may not be accepted or processed by a State unless the application 
(I) in the case of an applicant who has been issued a current and valid driver's license, the      applicant's driver's license number; or
        (II) in the case of any other applicant (other than an applicant to whom clause (ii) applies),
              the last 4 digits of the applicant's social security number. 

This provision helps to prevent fraud, but also serves as protection for voters, helping ensure that they are not inaccurately purged from the voter rolls or mistaken for another voter.

Unfortunately for people who consider integrity important, HAVA does not lay out specific guidelines for what happens when the data provided by voters is not verified.  Witness what happened in Ohio in 2008.  Then Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner issued a directive essentially telling Ohio election administrators to ignore the portion of Ohio and Federal law requiring this verification process.  Brunner was sued by the Ohio  Republican Party.  The Republican Party eventually lost the case based in part on standing and in part on the  weak enforcement language of HAVA.

Just how many of these nonmatches exist on the voter registration rolls?  As an example, in 2008, court documents show that nearly 100,000 voters on the rolls in Ohio had non-matching data.  We don't know the current state of data, but we could know.  If  Pew truly was interested in the integrity side of election data, they could certainly devote some of the resources they have put into this current report into ascertaining the level of compliance with this important provision of HAVA.  

While Republicans successfully inserted anti-fraud provisions into HAVA, since its passage, it is arguable that we've gone backwards.  Same day registration, grace period voting, and laws allowing voters to register and receive an absentee have all expanded. An increasing number of voters are voting prior to actually being screened in a verification process.  We can use the power of databases to bring more integrity in our election process.  But as we have seen in  Ohio and other states, those efforts to clean up the voter rolls and make them more accurate receive widespread criticism from liberals, even when the law clearly requires it.

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