California’s Election System Gets an “F” in Computer Science

“Tech problems” continue to plague voter registration and voting in our “high tech” state.

SANTA CLARITA, CA.  Election Integrity Project California, Inc. (EIPCa), a citizen funded nonpartisan election oversight group, today released a statement concerning the September 7 news that 23,000 Californians suffered mistakes in their voter registrations due to technical problems at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Under the state’s New Motor Voter Program, the DMV procures the voter registrations of all Californians who apply for or update a driver license. Under the new law, all persons transacting with the DMV will be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out. Though 1,600 of the 23,000 had opted out, they still became registered to vote. Others were assigned the wrong party preference, which could prevent them from voting in restricted primary elections if not corrected. Still others were assigned the wrong preference for vote-by-mail and language. The problem was reportedly caused by employees who did not clear their computer screens between customers, which would have been simple to avoid with properly designed software.

“This is not the first time lawful California voters have been harmed and potentially disenfranchised by the state’s flawed election systems.” stated Linda Paine, EIPCa’s President. “The fact that technical problems continue to plague the system is unacceptable, especially in a state that is the birthplace of cutting edge technology.”

Ms. Paine refers to a long history of technical problems with the state’s voter registration and voting systems, recorded by EIPCa:

2012 – The state launched on-line voter registration one month before the registration cutoff for the November election. EIPCa found and reported over 6,000 persons whose voter registrations were duplicated via on-line registration. Of those, EIPCa reported 113 persons it suspects used the on-line system to register and vote twice in the November 2012 election. The on-line registration system software clearly lacked adequate safeguards.

2014 – In the November 2014 election, Los Angeles County omitted all Vote-By-Mail designators on its Election Day rosters, which are an important deterrent to double voting. While poll workers scrambled to hand-enter approximately 577,000 designators next to voter names in over 4,000 polling place rosters impacting all county polling locations, the county registrar blamed this massive mistake on a worker who failed to “check the box” that prints the designator on the rosters. Rosters are printed the same way in every election, so printing procedures could be easily automated to prevent human error.

2016 – After a dozen years without a federally-mandated statewide voter registration database, the state finally certified its new VoteCal system less than two months before the November 2016 election. The database promised to use the latest technology to prevent duplicate registrations, track voters when they relocated, identify and immediately remove deceased registrants, and so on. Government reports related to the November 2016 election showed that eleven California counties had more persons registered than eligible citizens, calling into question VoteCal’s technical efficacy.

2018 – Once the VoteCal system was certified by the state, several pending election laws went into effect including the New Motor Voter Program. This program launched in April 2018, just before the June Primary Election. Immediately, the state found that 77,000 people had been registered twice via the new program. Existing voters who transacted with the DMV had two registration records generated – one with their chosen party preference and one (generated a week later) as “No Party Preference”. This was blamed on “software errors”.

2018 – In the June 2018 election, more than 118,500 voters in Los Angeles County suffered potential and actual disenfranchisement due to a technical error that omitted them from the Election Day rosters. Many were turned away from the polls or forced to vote provisionally. Once again, a software problem was blamed. This suggests that the systems that generate the Los Angeles Co. rosters had not been adequately tested, even after the 2014 roster incident.

2018 – In addition to the recent 23,000 erroneous registrations discussed above, the Sacramento Bee reported on September 6, 2018 that the New Motor Voter Program has generated an unexpected spike in “No Party Preference” registrations. This appears to be caused by “confusing prompts” on the DMV computer screens and a voter registration form that is inconsistent with the design of on-line and paper registration forms. These software issues may too easily default voters into a No Party Preference status.

“We at EIPCa question why California’s voter registration and voting systems continue to fail the state’s voters and why new programs appear to be “rushed through” statewide just prior to Election Day with what appears to be inadequate beta testing and troubleshooting,” said Ms. Paine. “Californians deserve to have all voter registrations protected, and all elections conducted with the utmost integrity. It is unacceptable that simple technology issues continue to put California elections in jeopardy.”

To learn more about Election Integrity Project California and to support their vital work to protect fair and honest elections for all voters, visit www.eip-ca.com.


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