Elections Performance Task Force: Technology Fair and Doug Chapin

Elections Performance Task Force Coverage <prev>

Yesterday was the 2nd meeting of the Elections Performance Task Force. It was a technology fair along with a talk plus Q&A with Doug Chapin. <ct-n video>

The technology fair was well attended with perhaps two to three times as many people as the Task Force members. Several vendors demonstrated electronic poll books, with single vendors demonstrating on-demand printing, high speed scanners, the AutoMark for persons with disabilities, and the PCC Technology Group, Connecticut’s voter registration database vendor. I was pleased to hear about a new version of our voter registration system in use in four towns that should provide a solution to past performance problems. It also has a capability for updating election results from polling places on election night via iPad or SmartPhone – hopefully that capability will be implemented by the State to provide more detailed election results, downloadable by the public, as we have been calling for. Also we noted that a pilot test of one vendor’s electronic poll book system will be conducted in the city of Torrington.

Doug Chapin, Director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, provided insights to the Task Force covering issues related to technology and election administration, followed by a Q&A. His talk centered on the value and price of changing election administration, technology, and election laws. Some of his main points to the Task Force:

  • Extensive data is needed to determine the value of, and direction of election administration changes.
  • In this era of tight budgets, assume you will not get increases for election administration.
  • Measuring Return On Investment (ROI) is important. Understand both the value and cost of changes.
  • A trend in the near term is attention  on voter registration, including accuracy and online registration. Most states that do online registration accomplish it in cooperation with another state agency, such as motor vehicles.
  • Early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and voting centers are strong trends. They can provide voter convenience. They can save money or add to costs. Data does not support significant changes in participation.
  • Once you start early voting, taking it away can have an impact, once people are accustomed to it. (As taking away local polling place voting may also have a similar impact)
  • Survey voters to determine their levels of satisfaction and confidence in the process.
  • Do not expect increases in participation based on changes or reforms in election administration. Satisfaction and convenience can be increased but not participation.

Chapin did not cover integrity, security, and the potential for errors and fraud. I found his remarks on the limits of election administration to effect participation particularly valuable. Certainly election administration can impact participation, yet likely only marginally. More data is needed to assess the value of early voting, voting centers, and election day registration to support his contention in each case. Surveying voters is useful to improve convenience and service, yet has its limitations when it comes to confidence in our elections. In the near term we will have more to say on the relationship between integrity and confidence, along with why we need both for democracy to flourish <see here>.

You can have little to no impact on your turn-out bottom line with election laws. Turnout tends to be driven by what’s on the ballot rather than when, where, or how it is available. – Doug Chapin

I was particularly interested in the demonstrations of electronic poll books and their potential in Connecticut. To me, they represent a huge step forward in accuracy, providing value to voters, poll workers, election officials, and campaigns. However, I do not see significant savings to match the investment, maintenance, and operational costs. There are some savings, especially in the phone intensive coordination of registration transfers between polling places, involving multiple phone calls between headquarters and polling places. It will be interesting if the Torrington pilot demonstrates savings such that towns will be willing to foot the bill for the local hardware and software, while offering to pay their share to the state for interfacing our voter registration system to electronic poll books – I doubt it. Overall, I would favor a solid plan for electronic poll books, yet justified as a moderate cost investment based on the value of accuracy and convenience.

We do need better equipment, accommodations, and access for persons with disabilities – much better than our current costly, problematic, inconvenient IVS system. That deserves  its own Task Force with election officials and representatives of persons with disabilities, along with extensive testing and cost benefit analysis.

The issue of ballots, ordering, costs, and on demand printing is complex. The Secretary mentioned that we do not have a good handle on ballot printing costs today. Costs vary from town to town and are based on the size and pages of ballots required. It is also based on the number of ballot styles and voters per ballot style. On-demand printing provides another option, yet the devil is in the details. How would on-demand be deployed? How many printers? Costs for programming ballot styles? Transportation costs, presuming printers are not in each polling place? Contingency plans for power failures, traffic accidents etc. The only valid analysis would be to compare complete proposed systems comparing all costs and benefits. Our estimate is that there is a potential to save a little, provide additional value, yet also a potential to spend a lot with little benefit. We should proceed with caution and skepticism.

The next meeting is scheduled for September 19th, 1:00pm – 3:00pm. The Task Force will hear from one of its members, Heather Gerken, Yale University School of Law.

Update: For another take, read this CTNewsJunkie.org article. Best of all watch the video yourself: <ct-n video>

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