SRC Study Contributes to Georgia Election Reform

Staff

Vol. 23, No. 1, 2001 pp. 13-14

Following the 2000 election debacle in which the shortcomings of the Florida election system came under national negative scrutiny, the SRC conducted a study of 2000 election results in Georgia. The SRC study, based on data from the Georgia Secretary of State's office, yielded fresh evidence of racial disparities in Georgia's voting systems. The findings of the SRC study and the Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox's report, entitled The 2000 Election: A Wake Up Call for Reform and Change led to the passage of a comprehensive election reform package (SB 213) that will mark a critical step to address the serious shortcomings of election systems in Georgia. The bill was signed into law by Governor Roy Barnes on April 18, 2001.

The SRC study found substantial differences in the rates of effectiveness of voting machinery used in Georgia counties. The optical scanning technology, used in sixty-six counties, resulted in 2.72 percent of votes cast being discarded as uncounted votes. The lever system, used in seventy-four counties, was less reliable, with a 3.98 percent rate of uncounted votes. The punch card system, used in seventeen of Georgia's counties by 30.5 percent of Georgia voters, performed least effectively, with 4.67 percent of the ballots registering as uncounted votes. Georgia had a higher rate of uncounted votes than Florida. Statewide, the average rate of uncounted votes was 3.51 percent, worse than the rate for the state of Florida (2.9 percent) and much worse than the national undercount rate (1.9 percent).

The SRC study found that the deficiencies of the punch card system had a disproportionate impact on Georgia's African-American voters who were almost two times more likely than white voters to live in counties using that most error-prone system. Almost half (46.23 percent)of Georgia's black voters live in punch card counties while less than one-quarter (24.73 percent) of Georgia's white voters live in punch card counties. Conversely, white voters in Georgia were 1.5 times more likely than black voters to use optical scanning equipment, which is least likely to yield uncounted votes. Fifty-seven percent of Georgia's white voters use optical scanning equipment compared to 36.5 percent of Georgia's black voters.

In preparing the Secretary of State's report, The 2000 Election: A Wake-Up Call for Reform and Change, Cox's office studied data from the 2000 election, analyzed the state's statutes and procedures, and reviewed the criticisms and suggestions of hundreds of Georgian. The problems revealed by the Secretary of State's report included outdated voting equipment; difficulties in voting such as problems with ballots, lack of poll workers, lines, and locating the proper precinct; a lack of multi-lingual materials to serve the increasing number of language minorities; election violations like deceased people voting; low voter turnout; the speed with which the counties report their election results; and technological shortcomings like the state mainframe computer being slow and unreliable.

In response to these reported problems in Georgia's election system, Senator Jack Hill (D-Reidsville) introduced and Representative Tom Shanahan (D-Calhoun) carried a bill on behalf of the Secretary of State's office to implement a uniform system of voting equipment by July 2004. The bill, which passed overwhelmingly, will:

  • Create a statewide uniform electronic voting initiative;
  • Implement a pilot project to test and evaluate voting equipment in four or five municipalities during the 2001 voting cycle;
  • Create a seventeen-member 21st Century Voting Commission to evaluate equipment alternatives and make recommendations;
  • Streamline the general election ballot by eliminating the non-partisan primary;
  • Reduce voter confusion by including a short, descriptive title for all constitutional amendments;
  • Reduce the chances for voter fraud by consolidating responsibility for removing deceased persons from the voter roll in the Secretary of State's office.

For more information on election reform in Georgia, visit the Secretary of State's website at: www.sos.state.ga.us/elections. For more information on election reform in other states, visit the center for Policy Alternatives's website at: www.cfpa.org.