Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Executive Summary of Justin Riemer's Testimony before the Senate Rules Committee on Data Collection

            Distinguished committee members, thank you for the opportunity to address you regarding data in elections. I am a former Virginia election official and co-author and Editor of a recent report from the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) reviewing  the Presidential Commission on Election Administration’s (PCEA) report and providing additional suggestions to improve election administration in the United States.

            To begin, it is important to highlight two issues why the collection and reporting of accurate and comprehensive data is a significant challenge for election officials. First, statewide election databases created as a result of Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requirements suffered from many problems commonly associated with large government IT projects. In the scramble to meet implementation deadlines, building in adequate data-reporting capabilities became a secondary concern to complying with the specific HAVA requirements. In Virginia, it was impossible to reverse-engineer the system after its launch to add better data collection and reporting capabilities. While HAVA’s database requirements mostly addressed voter registration functions, many states designed their databases to run various other election processes. Consequently, these systems house not only voter registration records but also information related to absentee voting, data collected at the polling place, and other functions of the electoral process. While Virginia has made many improvements, significant challenges in extracting data from the system remain.

            A second challenge is that much of the data used to analyze elections is collected on Election Day by poll workers who receive inadequate training, work only a few days out of the year, and are paid very little. Poll workers must complete a significant amount of complex paperwork after a long day and frequently make mistakes or leave out important information that is often impossible to collect later if not captured on election night.

            Another issue for policymakers to consider is how increasing demands for data and records impose significant administrative burdens on election officials. Survey obligations from the Election Assistance Commission, Federal Voting Assistance Program, and other stakeholders are tedious but manageable. However, adding increased FOIA requests, state and local data reporting obligations, litigation, and requests through other record disclosure provisions such as in the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) have turned basic data and records reporting obligations into a significant administrative burden. Combined with an increasingly shorter election off-season because of 45-day absentee ballot mailing deadlines and expanded early voting, these obligations make it more difficult for officials to perform their core job functions and make improvements to their election practices.

            Finally, using data to rank states’ election performance has value to identify both best practices and deficiencies, but there are also concerns. First, is the worry that graders will penalize states for not adopting policies such as expanded early voting, vote-by-mail, and Election Day Registration. The RNLA, many non-partisan election officials, and other stakeholders have significant policy reservations regarding these issues and they should not be included as indicators of performance. Similarly, graders should not penalize states for implementing voter integrity measures such as reasonable voter identification requirements and enhanced voter registration list maintenance programs. 

            Thank you again for the honor and opportunity to appear before this committee.  Justin's full testimony is here.  

No comments:

Post a Comment