August 13, 2010

Elections board shores up voter registration rolls with better oversight, technology

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By Megan Poinski

Megan@MarylandReporter.com

After an audit this summer pointed out that the State Board of Elections did not tightly control its voter registration system, changes have been made – but their effectiveness won’t be proven until Sept. 14.

The critical report, released by the Office of Legislative Audits in June, noted that the state board did little oversight to ensure that changes to voter rolls – the responsibility of county boards – were correct. Additionally, reviews were not done to ensure that convicted felons were actually removed from voter rolls by county boards. Auditors looked at records for 22 convicted felons, and found that seven of them still had voting privileges.

With the primary election rapidly approaching, State Board of Elections Director of Voter Registration Mary Cramer Wagner said that recommended changes have been made and the system is more airtight.

More personnel are in place to ensure that changes are made quickly and properly, and the State Board is working closely with county boards to see that ineligible voters are scratched from the rolls. Regular audits of voter rolls are more detailed now, she said.

Wagner said the state’s implementation of federal rules put in place through the Help America Vote Act have vastly improved Maryland’s voting system. These include a master database that is accessible by the State Board of Elections and each county board office, as well as other databases that better interface with the State Board of Elections’ master system.

“I think the state of Maryland has come a long way in the last four years,” she said.

Legislative Auditor Bruce Myers said he feels that the State Board of Elections has been willing to work with the recommendations. “Their response has been generally agreeable,” Myers said.

Auditors have not returned to check on them, but both sides worked together to come to a common way to solve the issues found in the audit.

The previous system to maintain registration records was fragmented and made it difficult for information to be kept up to date across the state, Wagner said. There are currently about 3.4 million active voters, and 240,000 inactive ones who the state needs to track. With the current unified system, Wagner said it’s much easier to keep the records updated and current.

In addition to a single computer system containing voter registration information, Wagner said that the Motor Vehicle Administration, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Administrative Office of the Courts now all have systems that can provide data directly to the State Board of Elections. This data is helpful because:

* Voters who move from one county to another can be tracked. When a voter moves somewhere else in the state, he or she does not have to re-register to vote at the new address. Instead, Wagner said, that person just needs to update the address on file with the State Board of Elections. Address change information also comes into elections board from the MVA. Wagner said this keeps the voter rolls more up to date, because people tend to change the address on their driver’s license addresses before their voting addresses.

* The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene collects information on people who have died in Maryland.  This list, Wagner said, is transferred to elections monthly, so deceased voters can be removed from the rolls.

* The courts have information on people who have been convicted of felonies and therefore ineligible to vote. This information is transferred to Elections about once a month, so felons can be taken off of the voter rolls.

For the most part, the State Board of Elections only needs to show its accuracy and effectiveness once every two years, so the upcoming primary is the first chance since 2008 for the state to show what improvements have truly been made.