Friday, November 30, 2007

If Your Car Doesn't Start, Change Your License Plates

It was inevitable. The same day a state audit was released showing Wisconsin's voter registration system has big problems, a renewed call was made to require a photo ID in order to vote.

Two things jump out about this leap of logic. First, backers of a photo ID requirement are crowing about the audit's finding that as many as 84 felons might have voted in the November 2006 election in spite of being ineligible. The auditors couldn't determine if they did vote, but they could have because of flaws in the system. Meanwhile, ID supporters are conveniently overlooking the audit's finding that the system put 1,537 people on the ineligible list who had been convicted of felonies but served their full sentences and should have had their voting rights restored. The auditors could not determine how many of these eligible voters tried to cast a ballot and were denied, but noted they should not have been on the list disqualifying them in the first place.

Second, there is no evidence in this audit or elsewhere that felons who voted illegally tried to pass themselves off as someone else. Requiring a photo ID to vote would not have stopped them from voting. Saying a photo ID requirement will stop felons from voting is like saying if your car's battery is dead, the solution is new license plates.

The thing that could stop ineligible convicted felons from voting is a voter registration system that can compare the statewide voter list to corrections records showing whether someone has a felony conviction and, if so, whether the full sentence has been served. Such cross-checking is required under federal law, and Wisconsin was supposed to be in compliance with that federal law on January 1, 2006. The state Elections Board and the private company the board hired for this project – the global outsourcing firm Accenture – haven't been able to figure out how to do it.

Wisconsin voters are not to blame here. A bumbling state agency and a private computer software developer that can't program its way out of a paper bag are to blame. So making voters jump through another hoop is not the answer. Holding state officials and one incompetent company accountable is.


Eric said...

I think what astounds me most as a computer programmer is that the statewide voter database doesn't sound particularly complex. It's a freakin' database! I could set one up in few hours that would hold the information. A user interface is a bit harder but with a modest team of programmers wouldn't take more than a month or two total of work (over time as you get information back from users on how it works). The toughest part is security but all in all I don't see how this could possibly take even a year much less multiple years as this project has taken.

I say all this because I think its important for citizens to understand that, despite Accenture's claims, this system isn't anything special. Get a team of 10-20 programmers and you'll be done in a few months.

Anonymous said...

AS a new poll worker I am amazed at the number of legimate registered voters that have been left off the new voter lists. When a voter says that they are registered but their name doesn't appear on the list, we have to refer back to their initial paper registration in the files kept by the clerk, verify their legitimacy and then write their name, address on the list. It is a very time consuming process and holds up the voting process.
The problem isn't a felon trying to vote, it's an inaccurate list that should have been fixed a long time ago.
Frustrated Poll Worker