Standards for interoperability of voter registration files: the time is ripe!

A headline in today’s “Electionline Today” concerns a pact signed by the secretaries of state in four midwestern states — Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska — to create a task force to figure out how they can check voter registration lists across the four states in order to clean up their registration lists. There is a story in the Kansas City Star about this pact, including a few quotes from the relevant actors. The text of the pact is also available.

One obvious requirement for these four states to be able to engage in registration list comparison will be data exchange standards, something that Thad and I have been talking about for a few months now, based largely on the study that we recently published through the IBM Center for the Business of Government, “The Next Big Election Challenge.” The work of these four states might be highly significant, if they are able to successfully develop data exchange standards for their voter registration files; they could provide an early test of the difficulties associated with registration data exchange and comparison — and hopefully provide some guidelines for other states or regions to follow as they work to also exchange voter registration lists.

But there were also four other important components of the pact that have not received as much attention as the registration list exchange proposal. These are:

  1. Cooperative training of election officials
  2. Cooperative testing of election systems
  3. Cooperative improvements for election security processes
  4. Establishing uniform protocols for international observers

Given that the these four secretaries of state are trying to implement four reforms (registration list exchange, cross-state processes for testing voting systems, cross-state security planning and testing, and standards for election observers), it almost seems as if they are reading Election Updates!

But seriously, this memorandum of understanding between Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas might be a highly significant development in the long run, if they make it work. There is much to be gained if states can work together in these areas, especially voter registration data exchange, and the testing of voting systems. As the latter constitute much of the theme of the recent “Voting Systems Testing Summit” in California — and was something that I speculated on in an earlier essay — I would not be surprised to see other neighboring states in the near future try to develop similar cooperative ventures in these areas.