Corporate Control of the Final Vote Count: Centralized Voter Registration Databases

Greg Palast

Last weekend in Portland, Matt Pascarella, chief elections researcher for Greg Palast, gave a presentation to the National Summit to Save Our Elections. He presented his research to-date on the privatization of centralized voter registration databases under Section 303 of the Help America Vote Act. Special thanks to Kat L’Estrange (pictured to the right with Matt) and Beth Hahn as well as all of the organizers who put together the conference. The article below is a brief write-up from Scoop about his talk.

(Portland, OR) Matthew Pascarella offered a clear reason for concern about the imminent privatization of state-wide centralized voter registration databases. Section 303 of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires all states to complete this process within the next three months. These databases will be the gateway to voting and the fences that keep people from the polls.

Given the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida where over 90,000 voters were disenfranchised due to state computerization activities; there is real cause for concern. Pascarella is a researcher, writer, and producer for Greg Palast. Palast and his team of investigators broke the major story on the erroneous 2000 Florida election “felon purge” list that disproportionately disenfranchised tens of thousands of African Americans.

Recently, state governments have sought out private vendors to design, manage, network, and maintain these centralized voter registration databases mandated by Section 303 of the Help America Vote Act. Companies including Diebold, Quest, Unisys and Accenture are gaining major contracts and competing for more by promising individual states that their company will bring them into federal compliance. Pascarella’s research has shown states are entering into no-bid contracts that often shed corporate liability. Often, companies cannot be held responsible for delays, cost overruns, and failing to meet federal requirements.

Accenture currently has four contracts for centralized registration databases. This is of real concern based on their performance for the state of Florida in 2004. Accenture received a $2 million contract to create a state-wide voter registration list that was to serve as the basis for a new purge of felons from Florida’s voting rolls. Amid litigation from various media companies prior to the 2004 election, Pascarella and his team of researchers obtained the Accenture list from a source and began examining it. They quickly noticed that less than 1/2 of one percent of the names were of Hispanic origin. Given the substantial Hispanic population in Florida, this seemed both odd and perhaps intentional. After all, Hispanics represent about 20% of Florida’s population and they are very active in local, state and national politics. They also tend to vote in large numbers. The 2004 Accenture purge list for Florida also included numerous individuals wrongly purged on the 2000 purge list – individuals that were supposed to have their voter rights reinstated per court order following a lawsuit over the 2000 scrub list. According to sources, despite these huge mistakes managing the 2004 purge list in Florida, Accenture continues to consult the state of Florida on the development of its centralized voter registration database.

Of greater concern is the fact that four additional states have contracts with Accenture. These include Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. According to Pascarella, there have been major “glitches” and other problems in practically every state contracted by Accenture and many of the state’s databases will not make the HAVA deadline, potentially jeopardizing millions in federal funding and shifting the burden to tax payers in those states.

Read more about Matt’s Portland presentation on Oregon State Public Interest Research Group’s website.