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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report Improving State Voter Registration Databases FINAL REPORT Committee on State Voter Registration Databases Computer Science and Telecommunications Board Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This project was supported by Contract No. N07PC10354 between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the organizations or agencies that provided support for this project. International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-14621-0 International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-14621-6 Additional copies of this report are available from: The National Academies Press 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285 Washington, DC 20055 (800) 624-6242 (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area) Internet: http://www.nap.edu Copyright 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council. www.national-academies.org
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report COMMITTEE ON STATE VOTER REGISTRATION DATABASES FRANCES ULMER, University of Alaska, Anchorage, Co-chair OLENE WALKER, State of Utah (retired), Co-chair RAKESH AGRAWAL, Microsoft Corporation R. MICHAEL ALVAREZ, California Institute of Technology GARY W. COX, University of California, San Diego PAULA HAWTHORN, Independent Consultant SARAH BALL JOHNSON, Kentucky State Board of Elections JEFF JONAS, IBM Corporation DENISE LAMB, County of Santa Fe, New Mexico JOHN LINDBACK, Pew Center on the States BRUCE McPHERSON, State of California (retired) WENDY NOREN, Boone County Clerk’s Office WILLIAM WINKLER, U.S. Census Bureau REBECCA N. WRIGHT, Rutgers University Staff HERBERT S. LIN, Study Director KRISTEN BATCH, Associate Program Officer (through August 2008) ENITA WILLIAMS, Associate Program Officer (since September 2008) MORGAN MOTTO, Program Associate (through April 2009) ERIC WHITAKER, Senior Program Assistant (since May 2009)
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS BOARD ROBERT F. SPROULL, Sun Microsystems, Inc., Chair PRITHVIRAJ BANERJEE, Hewlett Packard Company WILLIAM J. DALLY, NVIDIA Corporation and Stanford University DEBORAH ESTRIN, University of California KEVIN KAHN, Intel Corporation, Hillsboro JAMES KAJIYA, Microsoft Corporation JOHN E. KELLY, III, IBM JON M. KLEINBERG, Cornell University WILLIAM H. PRESS, University of Texas PRABHAKAR RAGHAVAN, Yahoo! Research DAVID E. SHAW, Columbia University ALFRED Z. SPECTOR, Google, Inc. PETER SZOLOVITS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology PETER J. WEINBERGER, Google, Inc. Staff JON EISENBERG, Director RENEE HAWKINS, Financial and Administrative Manager HERBERT S. LIN, Chief Scientist, CSTB LYNETTE I. MILLETT, Senior Program Officer NANCY GILLIS, Program Officer ENITA A. WILLIAMS, Associate Program Officer VIRGINIA BACON TALATI, Program Associate SHENAE BRADLEY, Senior Program Assistant ERIC WHITAKER, Senior Program Assistant For more information on CSTB, see its Web site at http://www.cstb.org, write to CSTB, National Research Council, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20001, call (202) 334-2605, or e-mail the CSTB at email@example.com.
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report Preface In late 2006, the National Research Council (NRC) convened the Committee on State Voter Registration Databases. Supported by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the committee was charged with organizing a series of workshops and the preparation of an interim report addressing challenges in implementing and maintaining state voter registration databases and providing advice to the states on how to evolve and maintain these databases in order to share information with other states securely and accurately in fulfillment of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Specifically, the EAC asked the NRC to convene a number of workshops among state policy officials and information technology experts and Academy-selected technology experts on specific topics of interest related to state voter registration databases, to prepare an interim report drawing on these workshops that describes challenges in implementing and maintaining state voter registration databases, and to provide a final report to the EAC on a plan for achieving database interoperability. This plan would provide advice aimed at assisting the states in maintaining statewide voter registration databases that are capable of sharing information with other intrastate and federal databases, as well as across state lines, securely and accurately and address concerns of state technical representatives responsible for database implementation and maintenance. In April 2008, the committee released its interim report,1 which outlined various challenges to the deployment of state voter registration databases and described potential solutions to these challenges. These solutions fell into two categories: those that could have been implemented prior to the November 2008 election, and others that would have required a longer timeline for implementation. This final report builds extensively on that interim report. So that this report can stand by itself, it includes nearly all of the material from the interim report, though in some places, that material has been revised to clarify the committee’s intent. In other places, material has been reorganized. This final report repeats all of the recommendations provided in the interim report because there remains a need for those particular recommendations, but it also adds new analytical material and makes a number of new recommendations. Note that this study was not intended to address all of the issues associated with voter registration. 1 National Research Council, State Voter Registration Databases—Immediate Actions and Future Improvements: Interim Report, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008.
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report Rather, the report focuses on the functioning of state voter registration databases, and it does not address other important issues, such as barriers that different groups—minority groups, the poor, voters in the U.S. armed forces and/or serving abroad—face when attempting to register. In addition, although the committee provided specific information on best practices when it could, a comprehensive survey of best practices or compilation of a detailed “how-to manual” related to voter registration databases was beyond the scope of the committee’s resources and tasking. Rather, this report is intended to depict some of the problems inherent in acquiring, operating, and maintaining VRDs, and to identify some general approaches to addressing these problems. By implication, the committee believes that the details of how specifically to address these problems are best left to the election officials on the ground who know their systems and operating environments best. This study was undertaken by a committee of 14 people with a broad range of expertise and backgrounds, including election operations, databases, computer and network security, and political science (see Appendix F)—such a range was necessary to address the topic of state voter registration in all of its organizational, technical, and political complexity. To provide a forum for discussions among state and local voting officials and other experts, to put information on the public record, and to educate the committee, workshops were held in August and November 2007 as part of the information gathering for the interim report. Additional workshops were held in May, July, and December 2008, and in March 2009 to conduct more information gathering. Agendas for all of these workshops are provided in Appendix E. Note: As this report goes to press (September 2009), the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) released a report entitled, NASS Report: Maintenance of State Voter Registration Lists. According to the accompanying press release, the report describes laws and procedures of various states related to voter registration and the maintenance of voter registration databases, including verification procedures, address confirmation programs, and removal of names from lists. Unfortunately, this report was not available to the committee in time for it to be helpful in the committee’s deliberations. The report can be downloaded at www.nass.org. The committee thanks all those who participated in its workshops and contributed to its deliberations (Appendix E). The committee also thanks the NRC staff for their work on this report. Herbert Lin provided invaluable and expert assistance to the committee by sorting through comments and suggestions and by drafting the report with the committee’s guidance. Kristen Batch and Enita Williams did a masterful job in organizing the workshops that served as the information basis for this report and in preparing the report for review. Jon Eisenberg, director of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, worked closely with the Election Assistance Commission throughout this study. Morgan Motto and Eric Whitaker provided administrative support. Frances Ulmer and Olene Walker, Co-chairs Committee on State Voter Registration Databases
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report Acknowledgment of Reviewers This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Brad Bryant, State of Kansas Paul DeGregorio, Everyone Counts, Inc. Morris Fiorina, Jr., Stanford University Rick Hasen, Loyola Law School Susan Inman, Little Rock, Arkansas Ray Martinez III, Rice University Deirdre Mulligan, University of California, Berkeley Ion Sancho, Leon County, Florida Pat Selinger, Los Baros, California Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Elsa Garmire of Dartmouth University. Appointed by the National Research Council, she was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report Contents SUMMARY 1 1 THE CONTEXT FOR VOTER REGISTRATION 5 2 KEY PROCESSES FOR VOTER REGISTRATION DATABASES 7 2.1 Posting New Voter Registration Information to a Voter Registration Database, 7 2.2 List Maintenance, 9 3 TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR VOTER REGISTRATION DATABASES 17 3.1 Data Capture and Quality, 17 3.2 Database Interoperability, 18 3.3 Matching, 19 3.4 System Availability, 23 3.5 Security and Privacy, 24 3.6 Backup, 25 3.7 The Impact of Election Day Registration and Portable Registration on Voter Registration Databases, 26 3.8 Thoughts on a National Voter Registration Database, 28 4 SUSTAINABILITY AND LONG-TERM FUNDING 30 5 ACTIONS POSSIBLE IN A RELATIVELY SHORT TIME FRAME 33 5.1 Public Education and Dissemination of Information, 33 5.2 Administrative Processes and Procedures, 34 6 POSSIBLE FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS THAT WILL REQUIRE LONGER-TERM ACTION 40 6.1 Provide Funding to Support VRD Operations, Maintenance, and Upgrades, 40 6.2 Improve Data Collection and Entry, 41 6.3 Improve Matching Procedures, 45
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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report 6.4 Improve Privacy, Security, and Backup, 49 6.5 Improve Database Interoperability, 53 7 CONCLUSION 55 APPENDIXES A Background and Context 59 B Matching Records Across Databases 65 C Data Issues 79 D Security and Privacy 87 E Workshop Agendas 96 F Biographical Information 112