Stateline Story

GAO Finds Widespread Problems in 2000 Elections

  • October 16, 2001
  • By Daniel Seligson

The General Accounting Office has released a long-awaited, comprehensive survey of American voting, and found that problems with voting extended well beyond the Florida border.

Using surveys and interviews, the research arm of Congress found more than half of the voting precincts in the country experienced "major problems" on Election Day 2000, primarily stemming from a shortage of qualified poll workers.

The other pressing problem facing election administrators was dealing with voters who appeared at polling places on Election Day but whose names could not be found on registration lists. Nationwide, 30 percent of voting precincts identified this as a "major problem," perhaps strengthening arguments put forth by some lawmakers for provisional voting as a nationwide standard.

More surprising, however, is the revelation that despite widespread concern about using absentee ballots, the GAO found less than 2 percent of the mailed-in ballots nationwide were disqualified because they arrived late or were missing necessary signatures or other certifications.

The report also noted every type of voting mechanism from paper ballots filled out with pencils on a string, to punch cards and high-tech touch-screen system can "produce complete and accurate counts as long as the technology used is properly maintained and effectively integrated with the associated people (voters and election workers) and processes."

Researchers concluded the costs of upgrading voting machines nationwide for jurisdictions that need them would total $191 million for optical scan machines and about $3 billion for touch-screen or DRE machines.

A final report on voting for people with disabilities is forthcoming, the GAO says.

Members of Congress who requested the report, listed as Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., are expected to use the findings in deciding upon how best to pursue election reform legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the report offered "confirmation" that there were serious flaws in the 2000 elections.

"The right to vote, and to have that vote counted, is the cornerstone of our American democracy, and must not be compromised," Daschle said. "We need to fix these problems, and we need to fix them now."