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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report
The amount required annually to support these activities is likely to be a significant fraction of the sums spent for the initial procurement of a full VRD system—40-50 percent would not be surprising.
Giving short shrift to funding for operations, maintenance, and upgrades is likely to result in poorer performance and the occurrence of avoidable mishaps in the operation of VRD systems.
6.2 Improve Data Collection and Entry
Recommendation L-2: Develop and promote public access portals for online checking of voter registrationstatus.
In anticipation of being able to vote on Election Day, prospective voters may wish to check their voter registration status so that any irregularities can be corrected in time. Web-based portals for checking the state VRD increase the ability of individuals to+ do so. For example, such a portal may ask the user to provide a name, birth date, and Zip code, and return either the user’s current registration status or an indication that there is no record on file that matches the information provided. A number of jurisdictions across the country, including Kentucky, Washington, Oregon, Nebraska, and Nevada, provide this service today to voters today.
When protected against security and privacy violations, such portals serve the public interest in increasing transparency of the VRD and create another opportunity for the verification of voter information. They benefit individual voters who want to verify their information, and may provide an opportunity (if it is legal to do so, and if potential privacy concerns over retention of the data can be addressed) for third-party voter registration groups to confirm that the applications they have collected have been received, processed, and accurately entered in the voter registration database.
States that have developed such portals (for example, Nevada1 and Nebraska2) have generally integrated them into their voter registration Web sites. These portals must access information stored in a state’s VRD, which means that their development requires some sensitivity to and technical capacity for dealing with security issues. For example, data compromises have been reported in other instances when live queries have been allowed access to the primary database, suggesting that it may be safer to implement some sort of buffered arrangement whereby the portal provides access only to a synchronized copy containing only the minimum amount of information.
Another point to be considered is the prevention of automated exploitation that might circumvent existing legal restrictions on making the voter registration database available to commercial users; automated tests (“captchas”) that distinguish between human and automated responses (for example requiring the user to type the letters displayed in a distorted image3) may be relevant in this regard, although this is an ongoing battle. Special steps must also be taken to prevent the display of voter registration information for individuals who need protection, such as victims of domestic abuse or individuals in witness protection, and in any event, the information to be displayed at all should be the minimum information needed for the voter to know that he or she is registered to vote and to inform the voter of the proper polling place (for example, driver’s license numbers or SSNs (even SSN4) do not need to be displayed). Some states collect more information (for example, phone numbers, occupation, or e-mail addresses) on their application forms than is necessary for voter registration per se; such information poses increased privacy risks to the individual if needlessly disclosed.
Finally, for all states that provide online verification of voter registration information, it is important to inform voters that they can and should check their voter registration status well in advance of Election Day.
A CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) is a program that differentiates between humans and computers by generating and scoring tests that humans can pass but current computer programs cannot. For more information, see http://www.captcha.net/.