By Laurel Rosenhall CALmatters The DMV gave the public a series of piecemeal explanations as it acknowledged making more than 100,000 errors in recent months in registering Californians to vote. Software problems, it said in May. Human errors from toggling between computer windows, it said in September. Data entry mistakes that were corrected but never saved, it said this month. What DMV officials didn’t acknowledge — and still haven’t — was what may be the underlying problem: The agency rolled out a massive new voter-registration effort with a piecemeal computer system. Instead of the properly integrated computer program that was needed, the agency launched in April with disparate computer systems that didn’t automatically link together, according to advocates who have been working closely with the DMV on the new “motor voter” system. That meant DMV workers had to manually link information from various systems during transactions between April and September, when an integrated system was put in place, said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. All the problems reported so far happened during that period of time. “What we’re finding out is that they were really patching together an old system with several new systems,” Feng said. “We still don’t know if…they had planned all along to have an interim process between April and September or if this is something they cobbled together because something wasn’t ready.” The DMV declined to answer CALmatters‘ questions about the computer systems, instead providing a statement saying the motor voter program “has been implemented in phases, allowing DMV to roll out additional functionality.” The latest upgrade, the statement says, was on Sept. 26. The botched rollout of the motor voter system — which comes as the state prepares for mid-term elections — points to two long-standing problems in California. One is the state government’s pattern of failure on large information technology projects; the other is its history of flouting the federal voter-registration law. Common Cause and other voter-rights advocacy groups sued the state in 2015, alleging it had failed to follow federal law requiring that states register people to vote and update their voting registrations when they get or renew a driver’s license or ID card. The Legislature then passed a law creating automatic voter registration at the DMV, and the advocacy groups have been working with the government to implement it. The idea was that rather than duplicating information by filling out a voter-registration form and a driver’s license form, Californians who are legally eligible to vote would automatically be registered when completing the DMV’s computerized application for a driver’s license or ID card. Since the program launched in April, about 1.4 million Californians have registered to vote or updated their voter registration through the motor voter process — and the DMV has acknowledged three batches of mistakes:
- A software error affected 77,000 registrations, resulting, in some cases, in two registration forms indicating different party preferences being issued for one voter (reported in May).
- A window-toggling error affected 23,000 registrations, resulting in changes to voters’ party preference, vote-by-mail options and language choices (reported in September).
- A data-entry error resulted in 1,500 people being registered to vote even though they are not legally eligible because they are not U.S. citizens, are under 18 or are on parole for a felony conviction (reported this month).
Laurel Rosenhall is a political reporter for CALmatters. CALmatters.org is a non-profit, non-partisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. The Winters Express is a CALmatters media partner.]]>