September 04, 2004

Punch card voting systems result in the disproportionate invalidation of minority votes. So conclude political scientists Justin Buchler, Matt Jarvis, and John McNulty in the September issue of Perspectives on Politics, a journal of the American Political Science Association. The authors argue that choices of technology have significant effects on racial fairness in the voting process. Examining Votomatic-style punch card systems, they focus on "residual votes" and conclude that these systems produce a higher number of improperly recorded minority votes than other voting technologies. "Minority voters do not have their votes recorded at the same rates as white voters," the authors state.

In the 2000 presidential election, almost one third of voters (32.1 percent) used punch cards -- more than any other type of voting technology -- the majority of which were Votomatic-style. This style, and its pre-scored columns of small, perforated rectangles (chads), became infamous during the 2000 Florida recount.

Through comparisons of different voting systems, the authors conclude that Votomatic-style punch card systems produce higher rates of "residual voting" - - the sum of over-votes (where multiple marks appear for a race, thus invalidating the vote) and under-votes (where no discernible marks appear) -- than other technologies. Surprisingly, the authors find that this effect is not uniform. Minority voters -- especially African Americans -- are likely to suffer from higher rates of undervoting with punch card systems than non- minorities, and are less likely to have their votes properly recorded. Punch card systems therefore effectively give less weight to votes cast by minorities than to votes cast by non-minorities. However, other voting technologies, such as optical scan systems, reduce this racial gap. Constitutional requirements for equal voting rights may even mandate that punch card systems be replaced in political units with a significant minority population. "There is no constitutionally permissible reason to accept any gap above that which is unavoidable," the authors state and argue that their evidence, combined with the clarity of case law on disenfranchisement, leads to the conclusion that Votomatic-style punch card systems must be replaced.

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