Guest Blogged By Michael Richardson
The 18,000 "undervotes" in Sarasota and other questionable elections in November 2006 election were not the only problems faced by Florida voters last year. Most of them, in fact, likely have no idea just how bad it really was.
Florida's statewide voter registration database, and election management systems designed to work with it, were plagued in early 2006 with a host of problems. Some of the details are now revealed by a raft of email messages sent recently by a source to the non-partisan election integrity watchdog group BlackBoxVoting.org which posted them quietly on their site for public scrutiny.
Sixty-four email messages to election officials, spanning a four-month period from January to April 2006, from VR Systems, a Florida corporation, document a staggering series of serious problems with Florida's new computerized voter registration database during the early months of its implementation. The emails, from Jane Watson, a manager at VR Systems, provide a disturbing picture vis a vis a nearly day-by-day report from inside the software test lab.
The Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) is statewide voter registration database described by Watson in the emails as a "home grown system" built by IBM to Florida specifications and maintained by Department of State staff. Voter Focus is a software system, unique to Florida, which provides election management functions to 60 Florida counties.
The emails tell the tale of software failures which began in January 2006 as programmers furiously work to solve program glitches and failures prior to the state's upcoming elections. The system went online before development was complete, in order to meet the January 1st deadline imposed by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The source of the Florida emails, an insider familiar with the development and implementation of the database who has requested anonymity, tells The BRAD BLOG that, "The system should never have seen the light of day until the bugs were worked out. They used the voters and county election officials as guinea pigs to experiment on and test the program."
Documented failures include the software somehow, without apparent reason, switching the party registration for voters. As one of the emails describes: "We are seeing instances of voters being changed to a different party when there was no user activity. This is our top priority now." And the next day: "We worked this weekend on diagnosing voters whom we suspected as having had their party changed by Voter Focus...There were 3 counties with high numbers of suspected cases of this kind of inadvertent party change."
The emails remain unclear on whether the problems were completely found and fixed, and whether or not all voter files had been correctly restored. Later emails suggest that various related problems still existed months later when voters, whose registration should have been recorded in the system, were nowhere to be found. Votingindustry.com, a website which tracks the progress of the implementation of statewide registration databases, currently describes Florida's system as "Still working out kinks."
Jane Watson, the author of the memos, spoke with The BRAD BLOG and confirmed the authenticity of the emails. She explained that the federal government with its HAVA mandates "didn't understand the time it takes to develop programs."
While Watson stressed her confidence that no voter was disenfranchised in 2006 because of bugs in the statewide voter registration system, she admits that "party changes never have worked as well as they should" and that "there are still some things to work out..."