Voter groups collaborate on XML data model for online voter registration

Data exchange protocol could streamline processing of paper voter registration forms

Two voter advocacy groups are joining forces to develop a new Extensible Markup Language data model for the electronic exchange of voter registration information.

The data exchange protocol could streamline the processing of voter registration forms by making it possible for states to accept data electronically and later automatically verify it against a signed paper copy. The work is being done by the Open Source Digital Voting (OSDV) Foundation and the Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF).

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The project is being undertaken at a time when the voter registration process is becoming more digitized. States are now required to maintain electronic databases of voter rolls, and a number of third parties, including OVF, are producing Web-based applications for registering.

“Last year, we got seven states up and running with hosted systems,” said OVF President Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat. “That was a lot to do in the first year.” The next step is to make that data accessible electronically to state registrars. “It’s ridiculous that all the forms that we help people create have to be re-keyed.”

OVF seeks to make it easier for overseas and military voters to participate in U.S. elections and has provided a number of secure, Web-based voter registration tools and services, some of them produced in cooperation with state election officials. The OSDV Foundation focuses on creating open-source technology for use in managing and conducting elections. The tools would be maintained in a public trust so that voting technology would not have to rely on proprietary software.

The joint project capitalizes on the experience and expertise of each organization, Dzieduszycka-Suinat said. Where possible, the project will take advantage of other efforts to create election data standards, including the Election Markup Language being created by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards’ Elections and Voter Services Technical Committee.

The XML-based voter registration system would be available free to states and would enable the exchange of data created in online forms. Because states require a physical, signed copy of registration documents, the electronic information would not replace paper documents that would have to be mailed in but would streamline the data entry process. A bar code on the printed form would let state officials quickly verify electronic data already in the system without having to re-key it.

“Most states are using bar code technology to avoid a lot of data entry already,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said.

A standard data format could also facilitate the exchange of information between states to keep voter records up-to-date.

Developing the XML format before states adopt new systems for managing voter registration could help ease implementation. Because each state has its own requirements and systems, adoption of such a scheme is likely to be piecemeal and more complicated in some states than others, depending on the technology that’s installed.

“Like anything involving all 50 states, it will be a scatter diagram” for complexity, Dzieduszycka-Suinat said. “Very likely the first state to do this will be Minnesota,” where the project was announced last week at the National Civic Summit in Minneapolis.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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