By Rachel Konrad, The Associated Press, October 3, 2004
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- The Election Assistance Commission plans to spend more than $1 million by Election Day to recruit poll workers nationwide and help Florida precincts devastated by hurricanes, but the federal agency expects far more of its funding will go toward collecting data about voting.
The country needs at least 500,000 more poll workers to avoid a shortage on Nov. 2, some experts say. But most of the $7.8 million Congress appropriated last week for the commission will be spent on research that includes the compilation of voting data that no federal agency has ever collected, said commission chairman DeForest Soaries Jr.
"The truth is, most people would be shocked at the paucity of data we have on elections -- it's one of the great inadequacies of our current system," Soaries said Friday night at a voting technology summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We're flying without instruments."
The National Institute of Standards and Technology will receive at least $5 million from the EAC to compile information about the 2000 and 2004 elections, Soaries said.
Data to be collected includes the number of people who cast ballots at polls, compared to the number who voted absentee, and the number of voters who applied for absentee ballots but didn't return them. It also will seek the number of poll workers the nation needs and the number who volunteer and whether residents' voting habits change when counties install new types of voting equipment.
Soaries said he'd also like a study of the nation's 55 different voting systems and whether the number could be reduced -- possibly to the embrace of a single technology.
Statisticians and political scientists say lack of federal data crimps their ability to intelligently analyze issues ranging from disenfranchisement to whether the shape of a ballot influences voters' selections.