Elections Performance Task Force, Third Meeting: Prof. Heather Gerken

Last week the Secretary of the State’s (SOTS) Election Performance Task force held its third meeting. The meeting featured presentations by Yale Law School Prof. Heather Gerken, Peggy Reeves and Ted Bromley of the SOTS Office, along with an an outline of the next meeting and deadlines for the Task Force.  The video is now up at CT-N <view>

Agenda for the day:

1.Introductions and welcoming remarks by Secretary Merrill
2.Guest speaker Heather Gerken, J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law, Yale Law School, to discuss election performance measurement
3.Presentation re: Online voter registration (Peggy Reeves & Ted Bromley)
4.Organization of subcommittees:

  • Improving post-election processes
  • Improving voters’ experience (registration through election day)
  • Improving voter participation among underperforming groups (utilizing focus groups)

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Secretary stated that in order to influence the Legislature in 2012 a report would need to be finalized in mid November, with a draft by mid October.

Professor Gerken

Professor Gerken addressed the value of data collection along with the state of data collection nationally and in Connecticut:

Doug Chapin said that we measure what matters. And if that is the case then elections don’t matter very much in this country…

We know more about the companies in which we invest,…we know know about the performance of our local baseball team, we even know more about our dishwashers than we know how [the] election system runs in this country. The data we have are undependable, unverifiable, and to inconsistent to allow us to compare across jurisdictions.

  • We don’t know how many voters cast votes in national elections
  • We don’t know how many registered voters
  • We don’t know how many voters were turned away on election day
  • We don’t know about lines on election day
  • We don’t know how many pollworkers
  • We don’t know what percentage of voting machines broke down
  • We can’t demonstrate significant improvements over 2000
  • States report inconsistently
  • Gerken ranked the 50 states on official EAC data reporting. Connecticut was 45th best. (better than PEW ranked our election web site), even so “Most states did a terrible job”
  • Connecticut collected only 25%-30% of the data requested by the EAC
  • She gave examples of the many areas in which business, consumers, and government use extensive data to make decisions, find problems, and improve. It is not exceptional to collect such data.

Imagine if you had a corporation who could not tell you how many people it employs; It couldn’t tell you how many customers it has; It couldn’t tell you what percentage of its business came from Internet sales;…one that failed to conduct regular audits of its accounting books;…never compared its performance to other places in the country;…you would not invest a dime in this company; And yet we are willing to trust our most precious commodity, the vote, to an election system that does not keep good data;…election administration is the mysterious outlier [when it comes to business and government data collection]

  • Election officials never survey voters
  • Election officials never benchmark between jurisdictions
  • What we need are simple, easy to collect, and non-controversial data
  • She gave an example of how LA County used data to understand and correct a problem with absentee ballots, at essentially no cost
  • Provided another example of using electronic pollbook data to determine polling place staffing
  • Atlanta found counting early votes was much cheaper than counting absentee votes

Prof. Gerken covered the potential value of The Democracy Index which she has defined.

Several additional areas were addressed in the Q&A:

  • In Connecticut, much data is collected and faxed to the SOTS, that apparently, has not been accumulated and reported to the EAC
  • Connecticut is planning a new system that will have the data entered rather than faxed. (Sounds good but will it be input by 169 towns, without concerns of “unfunded mandate”?)
  • India is leading in accumulating data for The Democracy Index
  • North Dakota and Delaware led in complying with the EAC survey
  • Public accountability needs really simple data like The Democracy Index – an attention grabber.  For internal accountability and improvement require more detailed data.
  • Data helps distinguish a unique problem/crisis from a pervasive problem or general incompetence

Ted Bromley, SOTS Office, and Peggy Reeves, Assistant SOTS

They spoke and used a PowerPoint presentation to provide and overview of online voter registration. The heart of the presentation was covered the systems in Washington State and Arizona, based on two reports from PEW and Caltech/MIT.  I found the presentation very informative. We will reference it here if it is posted to the SOTS website. Some of the highlights:

  • Arizona uses a system added on to  and integrated with an existing motor vehicle system
  • The Washington system communicates with the motor vehicle system to verify existing address information
  • Using motor vehicle information allows the system to capture existing digital signatures to use for later verification of pollbooks or absentee ballots
  • A big advantage of the Arizona system is avoiding redundant, potentially inconsistent data – both addresses can be changed in sync if the voter/driver changes either one
  • Both systems allow individuals to do a conventional paper form registration
  • The Arizona system cost $100,000 [2002] to implement and about $125,000 to operate annually
  • Microsoft helped Washington implement their system at a cost of $6,000,000 [2002] for a new centralized voter registration system + $280,000 for online registration
  • Savings are realized as most data entry of paper forms is eliminated and the digital signatures are captured and used
  • People who registered online [vs paper] voted at a higher percentage, and even more so for younger voters. [We speculate that those who take the initiative to register online are more likely to vote than those who get a paper registration application from an activists or campaign]

Based on the presentation, we must applaud the Arizona system and its costs. Avoiding redundant data and data entry must benefit both agencies. A $100,000 implementation sounds very efficient, built on what must have been an already well coded and documented motor vehicle system.


  • The captured electron signatures might also be used to make petition verification more efficient
  • The Secretary speculated that more younger voters would register and vote if online registration were available
  • Alternatives for those without computers or drivers licenses could be offering registration at other agencies, or to provide a signature on election day a their polling place



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