Improving State Voter Registration Databases
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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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.
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COMMITTEE ON STATE VOTER REGISTRATION DATABASES
University of Alaska, Anchorage,
State of Utah (retired),
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
County of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Pew Center on the States
State of California (retired)
Boone County Clerk’s Office
U.S. Census Bureau
REBECCA N. WRIGHT,
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)
COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS BOARD
ROBERT F. SPROULL,
Sun Microsystems, Inc.,
Hewlett Packard Company
WILLIAM J. DALLY,
NVIDIA Corporation and Stanford University
University of California
Intel Corporation, Hillsboro
JOHN E. KELLY, III,
JON M. KLEINBERG,
WILLIAM H. PRESS,
University of Texas
DAVID E. SHAW,
ALFRED Z. SPECTOR,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PETER J. WEINBERGER,
JON EISENBERG, Director
RENEE HAWKINS, Financial and Administrative Manager
HERBERT S. LIN, Chief Scientist,
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.
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.
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
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.