EAC Election Day Survey — where's the voting system malfunctions data?

So yesterday I sat down to work with the new EAC Election Day Survey data … and found that one of the components of the survey I was most interested in immediately analyzing, the data on voting equipment malfunctions (Chapter 11 of the report), only provides a very sketchy outline of the survey responses for that question. For this piece of the Election Day Survey, there are no data tables (i.e., no Excel spreadsheets) and no reporting of the data either at the state or jurisdiction level.

What’s up here? Reading the report, we find that the question on “voting equipment malfunctions had by far the least coverage of any of the survey questions. Twenty-one states did not respond to the question or said that information on malfunctions was not available … In all, we have information from only 485 of the 6,567 jurisdictions in the EAC database, or only seven percent of the country.”

Why does this matter for not reporting the data in any more detail than a brief summary table? The report justified this decision by stating: “Due to the small number of responses to the question on voting equipment malfunctions, we did not create the standard data table that forms the basis for other chapters in this report.” The report then gives a brief summary table, presenting the various voting system malfunctions by voting system type (Table 11a of the report).

It is difficult to understand this decision. Typically, survey researchers will not present data when there is a very low response rate for fear that it might jeopardize anonomity; in other words, when there is a low response rate in the typical survey, the risk in reporting the data is that someone might be able to figure out who provided which answers. Clearly this explanation does not hold water here, as the responses are not anonymous to begin with!

Otherwise, it is hard to see why this data is not available at the state and jurisdiction level.

Substantively, the results in Table 11a are interesting, and given their importance to the debate about voting technologies, external researchers really need access to this data at the jurisdiction level. We need to know which jurisdictions have provided these responses (and also which did not respond) to be able to understand the quality of the data here, and the extent to which we have useful data that we can rely upon to draw inferences from. We also need the more detailed data so that we can study where these malfunctions occurred in 2004, whether they are related to any other important election outcome variables, and whether there are any factors that might explain the nature and extent of the voting system malfunctions themselves.