Recurrent Voting System Failures Show Need for New Centralized Database

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 646-292-8322

Recurrent Voting System Failures Show Need for New Centralized Database

Ten Years Since Florida's Election Troubles of 2000, Lost Votes Persist Every Election Cycle

WASHINGTON - Recent,
recurring voting machine breakdowns, as well as the failure to catch
them and ensure that solutions are publicized widely, shows the need for
a national, searchable database to collect and disseminate information
on system defects, a new Brennan Center study finds.

Ten years after
the Florida election debacle of 2000 and eight years after the passage
of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the government has invested
billions on new voting equipment; still voting machine malfunctions -
and resulting lost votes -- persist every election cycle.  

Voting System Failures: The Database Solution offers a straightforward and important solution.

"Bottom line:
lost votes damage public confidence in the electoral system. We've seen
that this is a persistent problem -- that voting systems fail in one
jurisdiction, go unreported, then pop up in a different locale or
another election. Too often, voting system vendors have failed to
provide election officials and the public with timely notice of a system
failure or vulnerability, or have immediately blamed election officials
for the problems rather than conduct a thorough investigation," said
Lawrence Norden, author of the report and attorney at the Brennan Center
for Justice.  

"One way to
ensure that voting system defects are caught early and that election
officials in affected jurisdictions are alerted quickly is to mandate
that voting system vendors report defects and workarounds to a national,
searchable database that election officials and others can use to
identify potential issues with their systems before every election."

Unlike makers of
other commercial products, voting machine manufacturers are not
obligated to report malfunctions to any government agency.  And election
officials and the public are often totally reliant on the private
companies that sell and service the equipment to voluntarily keep them
aware of potential problems.

The Brennan
Center's proposed remedy is a new regulatory system that centers on a
national clearinghouse for voting system problems.

The report offers three key recommendations to ensure that we have an effective clearinghouse for our voting systems:

1. Creating a publicly available, searchable database;

2. Mandating rules for when the voting manufacturers must report to the database; and

3. Vesting
a federal agency with investigatory and enforcement powers to ensure
vendors report to the database and take appropriate action to fix
problems throughout the nation once they are found.

The Brennan
Center eviewed hundreds of voting system failures, offers a
comprehensive appendix, and analyzed fourteen cases where malfunctions
resulted in the temporary or permanent miscount or loss of votes. In
each of these instances, better oversight or reporting requirements
would have prevented these problems.

Among the report's interim, short-term solutions are the following:

1. states and
counties should demand (through contract and regulation) that vendors
report all potential problems and vulnerabilities with their systems,
wherever they are discovered;

2. the
creation of a "voluntary" searchable, national database, to which both
election officials, vendors and voters are encouraged to report;

3. election
officials and others should pressure vendors to voluntarily post all
information about system defects and workarounds on their own sites this
year.

The California
legislature has passed legislation requiring vendors selling systems
within its borders to notify the Secretary of State and all local
election officials using its systems of any "defect, fault or failure"
within 30 days of discovery. As we release this report, the legislature
is awaiting the Governor's decision to sign this bill into law. 
Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year; particularly in
light of our findings, the Brennan Center urges him to sign it this
time.

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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.

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