Monday, February 27, 2006

Electronic poll books: applicable to initiative and referenda?

I saw this discussion of electronic poll books a few days ago at (Newsletters).

What makes particularly interesting is a recent controversy in Oregon over ballot signatures collected in an attempt to refer "voter owned elections" to the May ballot. Voter owned elections (publicly financed elections) were passed last year by Portland's City Council, and are in force this year for the first time.

Some argue that VOE should have been put to the voters, while others wanted to give the system a few years in operation before bringing it before the electorate.

So why does this matter for electronic poll books?

What happened is that a group which financed a challenge to the law failed to have its petitions accepted. Based on a 4% sample, Multnomah County estimated that they were 600 or so signatures short of the number needed (somewhere in the 20,000s). (Actually, now the County is saying they may have made an error and are rerunning the sample)

Some have cried foul. Why a sample? Why not verify every signature (as they do for the vote by mail ballots)?

The problem is that, unlike the ballots, petition signatures don't have a bar code associated with them that brings the signature rapidly in front of the election worker. Each name much be entered manually (assuming it can be read at all), and the registration record checked.

Now how much easier would it be to verify signatures if they had been collected via some sort of electronic polling book. But would government officials allow petitioners to connect their signature collectors with an elections database? Or could an electronically collected petition process somehow speed up the signature collection and verification process?


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