Wisconsin's decision to outsource work on the development of a federally mandated voter registration system is backfiring big time. The project already was plagued by cost overruns, but now we find out through an open records request that there are so many bugs in the computer system being developed for the state by Accenture that Wisconsin will not meet the federal government's final January 1, 2006 deadline for state compliance with voter registration requirements in the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
The Elections Board's response to this revelation has been positively FEMA-like. First, the board looked for someone else to blame. The most convenient culprit was the "unrealistic deadline set by Congress." Pointing fingers at the feds is always a sound damage-control strategy, so long as no one notices that Wisconsin was granted a two-year extension from the law's original implementation deadline of January 1, 2004 or that states like Minnesota already have completed the work and complied with the federal law, at a fraction of the cost of Wisconsin's contract with Accenture.
Then, just as President Bush was nonchalant in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation and federal homeland security officials were caught unaware of desperate conditions in the Superdome and convention center, Elections Board director Kevin Kennedy claimed in a press release issued yesterday that voter list problems are "not unique" to Wisconsin and, besides, the board is just now learning of Accenture's failings.
Mimicking ousted FEMA director Michael Brown, Kennedy says the board "learned last week of similar situations" in other states that have contracts with Accenture. "Brownie" made the mistake of not watching TV, where images of the human suffering were being beamed to an international audience. Kennedy evidently neglected to read the newspaper, where word of Accenture's screw-ups in other states has been reported since at least early March.