Tag Archives: Wired

Wired Magazine: “Voter Database Glitches Could Disenfranchise Thousands”

Cross-posted to Project Vote’s blog Voting Matters.

By Nathan Henderson-James

Today Wired Magazine published an in-depth look at potential Election Day problems associated with voter registration data matching, list maintenance, provisional ballots, and shadowy interstate compacts through which member states cross-check their voter registration lists and purge supposedly duplicated voters. Titled “Voter Database Glitches Could Disenfranchise Thousands”, the piece, written by Kim Zetter, starts this way,

Electronic voting machines have been the focus of much controversy the last few years. But another election technology has received little scrutiny yet could create numerous problems and disenfranchise thousands of voters in November, election experts say.

This year marks the first time that new, statewide, centralized voter-registration databases will be used in a federal election in a number of states.

The article presents an in-depth discussion of the potential problems associated with the creation of the centralized databases and their potential to disenfranchise thousands of newly and currently registered voters in state after state.  

But election experts say the real concern is how states are conducting database matches of new voters under HAVA.

The law requires each voter to have a unique identifier. Since 2004, new registration applicants have had to provide a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number to register (voters who don’t have them are assigned a unique number by the state). States are required to try to authenticate the numbers with motor vehicle records and the Social Security Administration database.

But databases are prone to errors such as misspellings and transposed numbers, and applicants are prone to make mistakes or write illegibly on applications. The Social Security Administration has acknowledged that matches between its database and voter-registration records have yielded a 28.5 percent error rate.

Disturbingly, despite these kinds of error rates, several states have joined secretive interstate compacts that allow them to share their registration databases with each other and purge voters who supposedly show up on more than one list.

[Project Vote Executive Director Michael] Slater cites another troubling trend emerging with the implementation of statewide databases.

Several states have begun comparing databases for duplicate records of existing voters, then purging voters they believe have moved and registered in another state. The problem, Slater says, is the methods used can yield false positives, and officials are deleting voters without contacting them to verify that they’ve moved, or waiting for two federal election cycles to pass, which are requirements under the National Voter Rights Acts of 1993.

In 2006, Kentucky’s attorney general successfully sued his state’s board of elections after officials compared their list to ones from South Carolina and Tennessee and purged about 8,000 voters who appeared to have registered in those states at a later date than their registration in Kentucky and were presumed to have moved.

Project Vote is investigating Kansas, Louisiana and South Dakota for similar activity. Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska have also been comparing lists.

"That is a trend that will accelerate, but there are inadequate safeguards, and I think it’s very, very dangerous," Slater says.

For more information, Project Vote has created materials on database matching, maintaining voting rolls, provisional ballots, and voter ID requirements.