Counting Every Vote

There are other ways that technology can complicate the election system. One of Bowen's biggest worries about November's presidential election isn't the voting machines being used but the databases in which voter registration information is stored. A number of states recently introduced a requirement that names on drivers' licenses and voter registration records match exactly. Bowen says this could unfairly disqualify some voters, because the software used to compare records often cannot account for typos. For example, a computer may not recognize that "OM'alley" is a typo of "O'Malley." In 2006, Bowen says, exact match requirements prevented more than 20 percent of Los Angeles County voters from being properly placed on voter registration lists.

Under Bowen's stewardship, San Francisco will experiment with new software in November. It's one of the few cities already using instant-runoff voting, a system that lets voters rank candidates in order of preference instead of choosing just one. The rankings data can be used to determine a winner if no candidate receives a majority of the vote.

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