New study: Mississippi voters risk disenfranchisement
Voting machine preparation “inadequate,” but changes can be made by Nov. 6
WASHINGTON – A lack of effective voter protection measures places Mississippi near the bottom of a ranking of states based upon its preparedness to successfully manage 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. Despite Mississippi’s low rating, the report emphasizes that election officials still have time to make changes in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
“Mississippi needs to improve its 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. Everyone from election officials to citizens should be involved to make sure this process at the very heart of our democracy is healthy.”
Steps Mississippi can take to improve its election procedures before Nov. 6 include: upgrading ballot accounting and reconciliation practices, which would be able to catch machine errors; encouraging overseas and military voters to cast ballots by mail even if they have the option to vote via e-mail or fax; and ensuring that comprehensive contingency plans are in place (re-enforcing best practices from the secretary of state on down, for example).
Many states have neglected to address or prepare for voting machine malfunction, and in every national election, voting systems fail. In 2008, for example, more than 1,800 problems with voting machines 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.”
Mississippi received an overall rating of “Inadequate” 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.)
– 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 Mississippi, five other states were ranked near the bottom of the list – South Carolina, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas and Louisiana – while five states were ranked near the top – Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin.
“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.”
Election Day is more than three months away, and that leaves time for states like Mississippi to make simple changes in some of the categories ranked by the study.