Moritz Conference on HAVA

Charles Stewart, Paul Gronke, and I are attending the HAVA@10 Conference at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University today.  The morning panels covered What HAVA Did and Did Not Do and about Federal and State aspects of HAVA.

Charles and I spoke separately but both covered the history of HAVA and the issues the led to its enactment and why it looks as it does.  I discussed the voter registration component of HAVA and how the language of HAVA – and the goals of the commissions and research groups that helped to shape HAVA – recommended the creation of statewide voter registration databases and how the implementation of these systems varied across states.  Some adopted the top-down statewide system discussed in HAVA and some states developed “bottom up” systems that were more of a stitching together of local systems.  I presented some data showing that top-down systems may outperform bottom up systems when it comes to voters reporting problems with voter registration.

Charles noted how the problems with elections were first identified in Florida, how these changed to some extent when the Congress started to address election reform (adding, for example, disability access to the pool of issues being considered), and how the HAVA law and implementation again are different.  He noted that much of election administration is governed by state laws that are based on years of tradition and culture that is hard to overcome.  For example, Charles noted that there may be differences between how states that had provisional balloting before HAVA treat provisional ballots compared to states that had provisional voting pushed on them by HAVA.

Dan Tokaji discussed the legal aspects of HAVA in the courts and found, in his study, that there are relatively few lawsuits use HAVA as the basis for election-related lawsuits.  Part of this might have to do with the lack of any private right of action in HAVA.

David Kimball did a nice presentation noting that counties have very different capacities and different demands.  He discussed three types of counties:

  1. SMALL (Less than 1,000 voters), where the local election official (LEO) is like a school principal,
  2. MEDIUM (Between 1,001 and 50,000 voters), where the LEO is like a restaurant chain owner, and
  3. LARGE (More than 50,000 ballots), where the LEO is like the CEO of a large corporation.

What is interesting is this:  there are 5,149 small jurisdictions but they only serve 1.8 million voters.  The 457 large jurisdictions serve 88 million voters.  The 4,893 medium jurisdictions serve 43 million voters.  Most voters live in large jurisdictions but most jurisdictions are small.  David argues that size matters.  Large jurisdictions have lower residual vote rates compared to small jurisdictions but they also report more problems in the voting process, largely because they have more challenging populations to serve – more mobile, more diverse.