Committee on House Administration: "2008 Presidential Primaries and Caucuses: What We've Learned So Far"

On April 9, the Committee on House Administration held an interesting hearing, and the webcast and most of the witness statements are are now available. Interesting testimony came from Cecilia Martinez, Executive Director of The Reform Institute. In her testimony, she discussed data collected by the 866-MyVote1 Consortium. That data indicated that the most frequent problem facing voters using the hotline was a lack of information about their polling places (78% of calls in the 2008 primaries through April 4, 2008 were from voters seeking information about their polling location). Second in frequency were calls regarding problems with voter registration.

Ms. Martinez’s statement provided her ideas on solutions to these problems:

There are some relatively simple steps that can be taken to improve voter access to critical information such as poll location and registration status. Given that approximately 82% of Americans have cell phones, voter assistance hotlines like the 866-MyVote1 national hotline are extremely useful for voters looking for their poll location on Election Day. Local election administrators can inform voters of their poll location utilizing several means of communication such as postcards, emails, text messages, and robo calls. Strategic public-private partnerships between election administrators and consumer providers such telephone and wireless companies, utility companies, and cable and Direct TV can greatly enhance the ability to reach voters. We must also encourage outreach by church and community groups to those less likely to be reached by advanced technologies.

Voters should not have any doubt concerning their registration status. Voters should be able to “track” their voter registration from when they fill-out the form, to when it is processed by their local elections official, much like the tracking system used by shipping companies like FedEx and UPS. Building a robust and effective system will require both enhanced education for election officials and knowledge on the part of voters as to their rights and responsibilities.

Certainly ideas worth considering!

Also of interest was testimony by April Pye, Interim Director, Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections. Here’s some of the data from Ms. Pye’s testimony about problems experienced in their presidential primary:

Currently, we have a total of 2976 TS voting units, which average out to a ratio of 1 voting machine per 186 voters. In addition, we have 640 Express Poll units, which is an average ratio of 1 unit per 864 voters. This is an adequate ratio of voter to machine. However, our office received numerous calls and emails on election day and afterwards regarding the long lines and wait times at several of our larger precincts and those of other counties. Callers contributed the problem to the lack of a sufficient number of electronic poll books at the polls or inexperienced poll workers operating the machines.

After a service quality assessment of what took place at the polls on Election Day, election officials have determined that over 90% of the challenges that occurred in relation to the Express Poll unit on Election Day were user error and not equipment malfunctions. In addition, due to the fact that the ballot on February 5th was extremely short in comparison to the preparation of voter access cards with the Express Poll units, which took on average about 40 seconds to one minute and voting time taking between 15 and 30 seconds, caused the express poll lines to bottle neck. Therefore, it created the perception to voters that in precincts where there may have been between 10 and 15 TS voting units, by the time they proceeded to the front of the line, it appeared that all the TS voting units were not being used.

Interesting information for how long lines might arise in polling places, and how they affect voter perceptions.