TERENCE SMITH: Now, more on last November's voting process and what needs to be done to improve the system. For that we're joined by Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a nonpartisan organization that tracks election reform efforts nationwide. Doug, welcome to the broadcast again.
DOUG CHAPIN: Thank you.
TERENCE SMITH: We were here election night talking about this. In this piece, Spencer Michels points out that challenges continue in Ohio, and yet we're moving toward certification. So where does that stand now, and where does it go?
DOUG CHAPIN: It stands with the state moving toward certifying the results. We do have requests for recount pending, and that is being litigated right now. We don't know when or where or what part of the state will be recounted, but it appears that some kind of a recount is on the horizon.
TERENCE SMITH: Would there be enough in those recounts to change the results in Ohio?
DOUG CHAPIN: Likely no. It appears that the recount in Ohio is aimed more at highlighting perceived flaws with the process than it is with actually changing the result.
TERENCE SMITH: And when you add up all the irregularities cited in Spencer's piece and those that you know of, is there enough there to question the outcome nationwide?
DOUG CHAPIN: There isn't, I don't think, enough to change the outcome nationwide. Now, that said, the existence of problems, any vote that is lost because a voter gets out of line or has problems with the machine, can't cast a ballot, is one vote too many; so there does remain work to be done.
TERENCE SMITH: Looking forward, what lessons did we learn from this exercise a month ago today, and what changes maybe can be introduced as a result of it?
DOUG CHAPIN: I think what we learned, the dominant sense that I got and that we at Electionline got from Election Day was of a system that was overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to use it.
TERENCE SMITH: The heavy turnout.
DOUG CHAPIN: The heavy turnout. We had long lines, problems with not enough machines, shortages of balloting materials and other items in precincts across the country, even software that was overwhelmed by the number of votes that were being cast.
One of the lessons that we need to learn is that we need to have a better sense of how many voters are coming out on Election Day and what they will do to the system. And the kind of scientific methods that were described in the piece will go a long way toward helping jurisdictions address that.
TERENCE SMITH: Is it a money problem, at the heart? I mean, do we have to spend more money to have more equipment, more opportunities to count these votes?
DOUG CHAPIN: It's partially a money problem, but it's not exclusively a money problem. I think that while it is necessary to spend more, I think it's also important to spend wisely. And without the kind of data that we're just now beginning to collect around the country, it'll be difficult to spend that money wisely when it does come.
TERENCE SMITH: Your organization, among others, is trying to tabulate the actual numbers. What are you aiming at? What are you trying to learn possibly with an eye to correcting something?
DOUG CHAPIN: Partly what we're trying to learn is just what happened on election day. The process of changing unofficial election night tallies into final, certified results is a much longer and messier process than I think some people are aware of. What we'd like to do is find out not just what the vote totals were in certain counties, but what percentage of provisional ballots were counted in various places.
TERENCE SMITH: A provisional ballot being?
DOUG CHAPIN: A provisional ballot being a ballot which is provided to a voter who, for whatever reason, appears at a polling place and does not find his or her name on the ballot. A provisional ballot is a ballot that that voter can then cast and have verified for eligibility after the fact.
Different states have different rules about how to count those, and what we'd like to find out is what impact those different rules have on counting or rejection of provisional ballots.
TERENCE SMITH: What do you think is the level of public confidence, based on polls and other things, this year in the election process, versus four years ago?
DOUG CHAPIN: It's interesting. I do think the steady diet of negative news that Americans were exposed to about the electoral process has made people somewhat skeptical of the process, but at the same time I think lots of voters and many of the voters we spoke to were empowered by the amount of information they had.
Voters went back to the polls in 2004 much better prepared than they'd ever been. And so while there is a potential downside of people knowing too much about the process, sort of like laws and sausage, there's also an upside in that people feel empowered to use the system to their own advantage.
TERENCE SMITH: There's an issue apparently in creating and having statewide voter data bases so that... tell me why-- why they're important, what you can accomplish with them.
DOUG CHAPIN: Absolutely. It's an aphorism in elections that a good election starts with a good list. In the Help America Vote Act, which was enacted by Congress in late 2002, a centerpiece of state reform efforts was supposed to be these statewide centralized voter registration databases.
Those databases cannot only tell a jurisdiction which voters are registered, it can also tell them what precinct they're in, whether or not they requested an absentee ballot, whether or not they voted early, all of the kinds of problems that cropped up on Election Day 2004. These databases could give us the kind of information we need to avoid many of those problems before they occur.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay, and just finally, now what happens? The Electoral College assembles here in Washington Dec. 13.
DOUG CHAPIN: That's right, in just a few weeks, we will have the actual election for president and vice president of the United States when the electors gather to cast their ballots and pick a new president.
TERENCE SMITH: And George Bush's chances look pretty good.
DOUG CHAPIN: My sources say yes.
TERENCE SMITH: Doug Chapin, thank you very much.
DOUG CHAPIN: Thank you, Terry.