TR: This year, the Kentucky State Board of Elections attempted to purge voters based on a voter registration comparison with Tennessee and South Carolina. What happened?
TH: There are a very small number of states, primarily in the South, who have historically collected social-security numbers when they collect election data. They have a nine-digit SSN for each voter, which you’d think would be a unique identifier. The three states pulled their voter registration databases into a common format like Excel, and then they matched [them up]. First they tried to match on the SSN, but they didn’t work very well for two reasons. One is, there are data entry issues–people mis-entered the SSNs. Secondly, some people reported themselves as, for example, “Mrs. Bob Smith” instead of “Margaret Smith,” and when they did that, they also used their husband’s SSN. You’d get matches on two people having the same SSN, but different genders.
They were able to identify people who were registered to vote in multiple states. The question became, legally, what could you do about this? The State of Kentucky was sued successfully by its attorney general, who argued that you have to follow the rules of the National Voter Registration Act to purge somebody off your list. You can’t just purge people off, you have to send notice.
TR: Given that states and precincts, not the federal government, traditionally had the primary responsibility to run and regulate elections in the United States, how optimistic are you about the chances of federal adoption of electronic standards?
TH: The problem that you run into about any kind of federal standards is that the Help America Vote Act explicitly does not give the Election Assistance Commission [the four-year-old national clearinghouse for federal elections] the power to enforce federal standards. Any standard could be made voluntary by the commission, but for it to have any force of law it’d have to be enacted by Congress, and I don’t think they’re going to open that can of worms any time soon.
But I think we will see a demand for some kind of federal support for the states for both voting technology and voter registration. This will occur because there will continue to be election administration issues and demands for these technologies. I think what we’re going to see is pressure for more funding to address these issues, and when that occurs there will be pressure to create federal standards. People will demand voting systems that are highly secure and meet certain standards for functionality and interoperability.