Databases that are accurate and complete require execution of both tasks. (Accuracy refers to the factual correctness of the data that exist in the database; completeness refers to the presence in the database of all individuals who should be in the database.) These tasks require good data as well as good matching procedures. But in practice, a variety of practical problems arise such as data entry error. In addition, to the best of the committee’s knowledge, the matching procedures used by many states have not been subjected to rigorous evaluation or testing.
The VRD also drives the preparation of pollbooks (the list of eligible voters in localities for use at polling places). Additional functionality implemented by many states in their (centralized) voter registration systems—including ballot preparation; signature verification for absentee or mail-in ballots; and management of election workers, polling places, petitions, and requirements for disability access under HAVA—assists the local elections official in conducting an election.
The recommendations of the Committee on State Voter Registration Databases are divided into two categories: actions that can be implemented in a relatively short time frame, and actions that will need more time to implement. The committee also notes that although this report focuses on voter registration databases, such databases are always part of a larger system that includes human beings and institutions. Solutions to technical problems may in some cases also require changes to state election law or regulation and/or to state or local practice and procedures, and should not be regarded as being exclusively about changing computer systems.
The Help America Vote Act provided a substantial one-time infusion of money for states to acquire modern information technology for supporting election administration, including the statewide voter registration systems that have been deployed. However, all experience with information technology suggests that the initial acquisition cost of information technology is a relatively small fraction of its life-cycle costs. Ongoing funding streams will be needed both to maintain VRD systems (and the data they hold) in good operating condition over time and to implement many of the improvements described below.
The short-term recommendations address changes of a nontechnical nature related to (1) education and dissemination of information and (2) administrative processes and procedures. The long-term recommendations address the improvement of data collection and entry; matching procedures; privacy, security, and backup; and database interoperability.
All of these recommendations are directed primarily at election officials (voter registrars) at the state and local/county level, and the legislatures and county commissions that make policy regarding the conduct of elections at the state and local level. In some cases, the Election Assistance Commission has a useful role to play as well in facilitating and promoting their implementation.
S-1: Raise public awareness about the legibility and the completeness of voter registration card information. Jurisdictions could take some or all of the following specific steps:
Emphasize in the instructions for filling out voter registration forms the importance of legibility and completeness (for example, “Please print all responses; if your answers are illegible, your application may be mis-entered, rejected, or returned to you.”).
Conduct media campaigns emphasizing the importance of legibility and completeness in the information provided on voter registration forms.
Coordinate with third-party voter registration groups and public service agencies, emphasizing the need for their field volunteers to attend to legibility and completeness as they distribute and/or collect registration materials.