This year marks the first time that new, statewide, centralized voter-registration databases will be used in a federal election in a number of states.
The databases were mandated in the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which required all election districts in a state or U.S. territory to consolidate their lists into a single database electronically accessible to every election office in the state or territory.
But the databases, some created by the same companies that make electronic voting machines, aren't federally tested or certified and some have been plagued by missed deadlines, rushed production schedules, cost overruns, security problems, and design and reliability issues.
Last year, in Larimer County, Colorado, election workers got an error message when they tried to access the state's database to process absentee ballots, and had to log off for 20 minutes. In a mock election four months ago, clerks in other counties had trouble accessing the database from polling locations. Those who could connect said the system was sluggish.
Election officials in several counties said they didn't trust the system, and planned to load the database to county computers and use printed poll books on Election Day rather than access the central database in real time.
"The voter-registration databases are an underlying part of the voting technology revolution that has taken place in this country that has been the least noticed," says Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.