Minnesota earns high marks in new election study

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  • Dale Eisman

Mary Boyle, Common Cause, mboyle@commoncause.org, (202) 736-5770

Christy Setzer, New Heights Communications, christy@newheightscommunications.com, 202-724-6380

Voting machine preparation “good,” but room for improvement before Nov. 6

WASHINGTON – An effective combination of paper ballots and other sound voter protection measures vaulted Minnesota near the top of a ranking of states based upon its preparedness to successfully manage any voting machine failures on Election Day, a new, national report finds.

The report, “Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Voting Technology Preparedness,” was released Wednesday by three non-partisan organizations focused on voting – the Verified Voting Foundation, the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic, and Common Cause. While Minnesota earned a high rating, the report nevertheless urges election officials in every state to make changes in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

“We applaud Minnesota’s efforts to prepare for the upcoming election,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting. “No election system is perfect, and ensuring fair, accurate elections is a national effort, but states like Minnesota set a strong example. They show how everyone from election officials to citizens can be involved to make sure this process at the very heart of our democracy is healthy.”

Minnesota got high marks in part because it uses paper ballots and has improved its handling of ballots from military and overseas voters. These are the types of measures that all states should implement to improve the accuracy of our elections.

Many states have neglected to address or prepare for voting machine malfunctions or other voting system failures, which occur in every election. , In 2008 – the last presidential election year – more than 1,800 problems were reported nationally.

“If history is any indication, machines this November will fail in the U.S. and votes will be lost,” said Susannah Goodman of Common Cause. “Backup systems like paper ballots, audits and good ballot reconciliation practices need to be put in place to be sure outcomes are correct.”

Minnesota received an overall rating of “Good” based on its performance in five areas:

Does the state require paper ballots or records of every vote cast? (When computer failures or human errors cause machine miscounts, election officials can use the original ballots to determine correct totals. Additionally, paper ballots can be used to audit machine counts.)Issues regarding database matching remain unresolved, though the secretary of state has taken steps to resolve them.

Ohio has had problems with deceptive robocalls and other attempts to use misinformation to prevent individuals from voting; the law is not specific enough to combat such practices. Ohio also lacks anti-spam statutes which apply to non-commercial e-mails, although e-mail is a common and rapid method of spreading disinformation.

Provisional ballots cast at the wrong precinct are not counted.

On the positive side, the report found some exemplary voting laws and procedures which other states would do well to emulate.

In response to a lawsuit, Ohio is improving its registration practices at state public assistance agencies. The state’s Department of Job and Family Services entered into a settlement agreement in November 2009 to implement and monitor the NVRA. The first several months of data reporting under the agreement are encouraging.

Does the state have adequate contingency plans at each polling place in the event of machine failure?

Does the state protect military and overseas voters and their ballots from alteration, manipulation and privacy violations by ensuring that marked ballots are not cast online?

Has the state instituted a post-election audit to determine whether the electronically reported results are correct?

Does the state use robust ballot reconciliation and tabulation practices to help ensure that no ballots are lost or added as votes are tallied and aggregated from the local to state level?

In addition to Minnesota, four other states were ranked near the top of the list – New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin – while six states were ranked near the bottom – Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

No vote should be lost in 2012,” said Penny Venetis, co-director of the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic. “Technology exists to verify votes, and procedures could be in place around the country to make sure that every vote is counted as cast, just like the constitution requires.”

The national election is more than three months away, leaving time for Minnesota to make simple changes in some of the categories ranked by the study.