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Some aspects of voting systems improved in 2004

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Professor Charles Stewart, head of the Department of Political Science, and other researchers in the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project studied the 2004 Presidential Election on election day and afterward to see what changes and improvements had occurred since 2000.

The group found that in one area in particular, the "residual vote rate," the U.S. election system improved a good deal. Residual votes are votes that are not counted for any number of reasons. In his summary of the research, Stewart noted the following important points.

• 17 million more people voted in 2004 than in 2000, a 14 percent increase. Approximately 1 million of these "new votes" can be attributed to reforms in voting machines and administrative practices over the past four years.
• Of the 37 states (including the District of Columbia) that have reported total turnout in the 2004 presidential election, the aggregate residual vote rate was 1.1 percent in 2004. Among these same states, the residual vote rate was 1.9 percent in 2000.
• Florida and Georgia saw the biggest decreases in the residual vote rate across the past four years, by 2.5 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively.
• Only five states--California, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska--saw increases in their residual vote rates from 2000 and 2004.
• The greatest improvements in residual vote rates occurred in counties that shared the following characteristics: the whole state engaged in comprehensive election reform; and, the county changed its voting machines, especially thse that abandoned punch cards.
• Changing voting machines and changing election administration practices often went hand-in-hand. One-half to two-thirds of the reduction in residual vote rate over the past four years can be attributed to non-machine factors, including increased electoral competition in "battleground states" and statewide reform efforts.
• The residual vote rate declined more between 2000 and 2004 in counties that gave presidential candidate Al Gore a large percentage of the vote in 2000.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 16, 2005 (download PDF).

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