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Brennan Center Report Finds Improvements in New Voting Technology Being Implemented in Several States

August 28, 2006

For Immediate Release
Monday August 28, 2006

Contact Information:
Jonathan Rosen, 646 452–5637

Brennan Center Report Finds Improvements in New Voting Technology Being Implemented in Several States
Report Finds Precinct Count Optical Scan and Scrolling Touch Screen Systems Have Lower Lost Vote Rates
Report Faults Continued Use of Full-Face Ballot Touch Screen Systems

NEW YORK, NY – The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, today released a report and policy proposals, concluding that two of the most commonly purchased electronic voting systems today are better at recording voter intentions than older systems like the punchcard system used in Florida in 2000. At the same time the report faulted one electronic voting system under consideration in New York and in use in parts of New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee that continues to unduly hamper voters ability to easily and accurately cast a ballot for their preferred candidate without undue burden, confusion and delay.

Ever since the words butterfly ballot and hanging chad entered the American lexicon in November, 2000 its been clear that we need to do more to ensure that voters can easily cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice and make sure their vote is actually counted as intended, stated Michael Waldman, the Brennan Centers Executive Director.

The Brennan Center report, The Machinery of Democracy: Usability of Voting Systems, examines, among other things, the extent to which current voting systems correctly record voters intended selections, i.e., the systems effectiveness. Specifically, the report looks at the residual vote rate for each major voting system in the 2004 presidential election. The residual vote rate is the difference between the number of ballots cast and the number of valid votes cast in a particular contest. Residual votes thus occur as the result of undervotes (where voters intentionally or unintentionally record no selection) or overvotes (where voters select too many candidates, thus spoiling the ballot for that contest).

Exit polls and other election surveys indicate that slightly less than 1% of voters intentionally abstain from making a selection in presidential elections. Thus, a residual vote rate significantly higher than 1% in a presidential election indicates the extent to which the voting systems design or the ballots design has produced unintentional voter errors.

Significantly, several studies indicate that residual vote rates are higher in low-income and minority communities. The Brennan Center study shows that improvements in voting equipment and ballot design produce substantial drops in residual vote rates in such communities. As a result, the failure of a voting system to protect against residual votes is likely to harm low-income and minority voters and their communities more severely than other communities.

Among the reports key findings:

* Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) and scrolling Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems are more accurate at recording voter intention than older voting systems. In 2004, residual vote rates were less than 1% for both technologies.

* Full-face DRE systems continue to be plagued with an unacceptably high residual vote rate. In 2000, 2002 and 2004, it exceeded that of either PCOS or scrolling DRE systems.

* Residual vote rates among voters earning less then $25,000 are higher on full-face DREs (2.8%), than on either PCOS (1.4%) or scrolling DREs (1.3%).

The good news is that most states are selecting machines and designing ballots that will record more voters choices accurately. The bad news is that major jurisdictions like Philadelphia, and perhaps New York City, plan to use voting technology that is known to have high error rates, said Lawrence Norden, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center and lead author of the report.

This report makes clear that there is a real difference between so called full-face systems and all other voting technology. Put simply, full-face systems make it harder for people to cast their votes. We should be encouraging all election officials to reject full-face ballot requirements and adopt technology that is user friendly for all voters, stated David Kimball, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and a co-author of the report.

The report also makes a number of recommendations to increase the accuracy and ease of use of electronic voting machines, no matter what system a jurisdiction is using. This includes conducting usability testing on ballots before finalizing their design, using plain language instructions in both English and other languages commonly used in the jurisdiction, and placing such instructions in the top left of the ballot frame.