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National Issues

Statewide Databases: Some Missed Milestones, Temporary Fixes PDF  | Print |  Email
By Sean Greene, electionline.org   
October 13, 2006

The following survey of the status of statewide voter registration databases appeared in electionline.org's newsletter and is posted here with permission of the author.

 

Statewide voter registration databases, one of the most complex and costly requirements of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), were supposed to be completed nearly 10 months ago. Roughly one in five states missed the mark and several have yet to implement a final version for the 2006 election.

 

electionline.org surveyed the state of databases across the country, finding legal settlements, interim compliance, and missed milestones in a number of states as November 7 approaches.

 

Will the status of voter registration databases matter on Election Day? Unlike voting machines, voters will have no tangible evidence of progress on HAVA's database requirement at the polls on Election Day. But for those states with new, troubled, unfinished or otherwise malfunctioning lists, potential delays, mishandled voter records, and other problems could plague some areas on November 7.

Lawsuits and Settlements

 

Three states - Alabama, Maine and New York - were sued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the agency responsible for enforcing HAVA compliance, for failing to complete statewide databases. A fourth, California, reached agreement with DOJ in 2005.

 

Alabama: In 2005, led by Secretary of State Nancy Worley (D), the state entered into negotiations with vendor Diebold Election Systems to build an updated voter list, but suspended negotiations over questions of who would own the final product. Other attempts to secure a new vendor to build a database failed.

 

In June 2006 - almost six months after the federal deadline - DOJ filed suit against Worley, leading to a plan for implementing a database by a special master, stripping the secretary of her authority over its implementation. The federal judge placed Gov. Bob Riley (R) in charge of completing the database, drawing criticism from Democrats who said the lawsuit was politically motivated to take control of the project from the Democratic secretary of state and give it to the Republican governor. Riley, who dismissed the criticism, appointed a four-member panel to oversee the development and implementation of the database.

 

In the meantime, for the November election, the state will have an updated and upgraded version of its legacy ALVIN (Alabama Voter Information Network) system in place.

 

California: While the state did not complete a final HAVA-compliant system, California averted a lawsuit by entering into an agreement with DOJ in November 2005 to complete an interim database, an enhanced version of the existing CalVoter system. CalVoter continues to function as the state's list, allowing the state to achieve interim compliance while the upgraded version is completed.

 

Maine: In July, DOJ announced a lawsuit and agreement with the state over its failure to achieve HAVA compliance. The state ended its contract with Michigan-based Covansys in February, and reached an agreement with sub-vendor PCC Technology to finish the job. "It wasn't working out and we just weren't getting where we wanted to be in terms of the quality of the information we were getting out of the system," Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) told the Bangor News. Officials say the database will be in place in time for the November election.

 

New York: The first state sued by DOJ over HAVA compliance issues, New York now has an interim registration database (NYSVOTER I) in place, according to a State Board of Elections memo. State officials say they intend to use an outside contractor, the Portland, Ore.-based Saber Corporation, to help integrate and implement the final database, NYSVOTER 2.

 

Interim systems in place

 

Other states missed the January 1, 2006 deadline of having a final database in place but have implemented interim lists.

 

Illinois: The state has a contract with Chicago-based Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc. for assistance in creating a statewide database with an expected completion date of April 2008. "Currently, the jurisdictions are using the existing voter registration system. This system offers statewide voter searches, duplicate notifications, and matches to death certificates. It is not fully HAVA-compliant though it contains many HAVA-compliant features," said Kyle Thomas, voter registration coordinator at the Illinois State Board of Elections. "[The database] is something that the Department of Justice and the State Board of Elections have communicated about."

 

Nevada: Nevada officials had difficulties with the vendor it hired to design the state's new voter list. The state cancelled its contract with Covansys in February 2006 and created its own interim database which was in place in time for the August primary.

 

It is not clear, however, whether the current list is exactly what the state had in mind when it set out to complete the database project.

 

"Our office and the county clerks were able to put together a very good system, which then begs the question of whether it will be permanent. The new secretary of state will have to make that decision - [Secretary of State Dean] Heller is term limited," said Ellick Hsu, state elections director.

 

Texas: The state's TEAM (Texas Election Administration Management) system was to have been up and running by the general election, but delays in converting voter data from county computers to the state list have delayed the roll out at least until after November 7. Regardless of the progress with the new list, the current one is compliant with HAVA.

 

"We are currently using our legacy statewide list and components of TEAM. Two hundred and twenty-seven counties are online with us, and the remaining 27 counties exchange data with us on a daily basis. We have been HAVA-compliant since January 1, 2006," said Ann McGeehan, state director of elections. "We were going to deploy TEAM this past summer, but weren't quite ready so we decided to hold off and deploy the system after the general election. We have been in regular communication with U.S. DOJ..going over these issues."

 

Wyoming: After numerous problems with Bermuda-based Accenture, Wyoming officials cancelled the contract with the company in March 2006 and received nearly a full refund of $3.9 million. The state then immediately went to work on building an interim database to meet the 2006 deadline. They missed the mark, but will nonetheless have a system in place that meets federal standards.

 

"The counties will continue to use their voter registration systems which they have in place but they will upload to the state database daily. The state interim system will perform all the required HAVA checks including driver's license, Social Security, felony records, death records and duplicate records checks," stated Peggy Nighswonger, state election director. "Following the election and after a new secretary of state takes office in January, we will again begin looking for a new VR system."

 

Final Databases Complete

 

Several states missed the Jan. 1, 2006 deadline, but completed the projects before primaries.

Missouri: In June, Boone County became the last of 116 counties to join the state's voter registration database. Initially, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren balked at joining the state's list, contending her local list was more accurate.

 

Eventually, Noren and state officials worked out an agreement.

 

"This provides a way for the Boone County Clerk's office to join the statewide system while continuing to operate off of the same voter registration system we've been using to offer outstanding service to Boone County voters for years," Noren said in a press release from the secretary of state's office.

 

New Jersey: The Covansys-built database was completed in May.

 

Wisconsin: After months of delays, the state implemented a $27.5 million, Accenture-built statewide database in time for the September 12 primary. Prior to its completion, jurisdictions with fewer than 5,000 residents did not maintain registered voters lists. Now every registered voter will be in the database which will track a variety of voter information. However, problems prevented the list from being checked against other state records, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

 

County databases in use

 

Colorado: Just as in Wyoming, Colorado officials opted to terminate a contract with Accenture in late 2005. After another request for proposal was sent out, the state declared its intent to hire Saber to build the database in early October. For the upcoming November election, the counties will be using their local registration systems.

 

"We have been in contact with [DOJ] about every two weeks for the last few months and they are aware of the status," said Lisa Doran, a spokeswoman for the Colorado secretary of state's office.

 

Lawsuits and Settlements

 

Three states - Alabama, Maine and New York - were sued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the agency responsible for enforcing HAVA compliance, for failing to complete statewide databases. A fourth, California, reached agreement with DOJ in 2005.

 

Alabama: In 2005, led by Secretary of State Nancy Worley (D), the state entered into negotiations with vendor Diebold Election Systems to build an updated voter list, but suspended negotiations over questions of who would own the final product. Other attempts to secure a new vendor to build a database failed.

 

In June 2006 - almost six months after the federal deadline - DOJ filed suit against Worley, leading to a plan for implementing a database by a special master, stripping the secretary of her authority over its implementation. The federal judge placed Gov. Bob Riley (R) in charge of completing the database, drawing criticism from Democrats who said the lawsuit was politically motivated to take control of the project from the Democratic secretary of state and give it to the Republican governor. Riley, who dismissed the criticism, appointed a four-member panel to oversee the development and implementation of the database.

 

In the meantime, for the November election, the state will have an updated and upgraded version of its legacy ALVIN (Alabama Voter Information Network) system in place.

 

California: While the state did not complete a final HAVA-compliant system, California averted a lawsuit by entering into an agreement with DOJ in November 2005 to complete an interim database, an enhanced version of the existing CalVoter system. CalVoter continues to function as the state's list, allowing the state to achieve interim compliance while the upgraded version is completed.

 

Maine: In July, DOJ announced a lawsuit and agreement with the state over its failure to achieve HAVA compliance. The state ended its contract with Michigan-based Covansys in February, and reached an agreement with sub-vendor PCC Technology to finish the job. "It wasn't working out and we just weren't getting where we wanted to be in terms of the quality of the information we were getting out of the system," Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) told the Bangor News. Officials say the database will be in place in time for the November election.

 

New York: The first state sued by DOJ over HAVA compliance issues, New York now has an interim registration database (NYSVOTER I) in place, according to a State Board of Elections memo. State officials say they intend to use an outside contractor, the Portland, Ore.-based Saber Corporation, to help integrate and implement the final database, NYSVOTER 2.

 

Interim systems in place

 

Other states missed the January 1, 2006 deadline of having a final database in place but have implemented interim lists.

 

Illinois: The state has a contract with Chicago-based Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc. for assistance in creating a statewide database with an expected completion date of April 2008. "Currently, the jurisdictions are using the existing voter registration system. This system offers statewide voter searches, duplicate notifications, and matches to death certificates. It is not fully HAVA-compliant though it contains many HAVA-compliant features," said Kyle Thomas, voter registration coordinator at the Illinois State Board of Elections. "[The database] is something that the Department of Justice and the State Board of Elections have communicated about."

 

Nevada: Nevada officials had difficulties with the vendor it hired to design the state's new voter list. The state cancelled its contract with Covansys in February 2006 and created its own interim database which was in place in time for the August primary.

 

It is not clear, however, whether the current list is exactly what the state had in mind when it set out to complete the database project.

 

"Our office and the county clerks were able to put together a very good system, which then begs the question of whether it will be permanent. The new secretary of state will have to make that decision - [Secretary of State Dean] Heller is term limited," said Ellick Hsu, state elections director.

 

Texas: The state's TEAM (Texas Election Administration Management) system was to have been up and running by the general election, but delays in converting voter data from county computers to the state list have delayed the roll out at least until after November 7. Regardless of the progress with the new list, the current one is compliant with HAVA.

 

"We are currently using our legacy statewide list and components of TEAM. Two hundred and twenty-seven counties are online with us, and the remaining 27 counties exchange data with us on a daily basis. We have been HAVA-compliant since January 1, 2006," said Ann McGeehan, state director of elections. "We were going to deploy TEAM this past summer, but weren't quite ready so we decided to hold off and deploy the system after the general election. We have been in regular communication with U.S. DOJ..going over these issues."

 

Wyoming: After numerous problems with Bermuda-based Accenture, Wyoming officials cancelled the contract with the company in March 2006 and received nearly a full refund of $3.9 million. The state then immediately went to work on building an interim database to meet the 2006 deadline. They missed the mark, but will nonetheless have a system in place that meets federal standards.

 

"The counties will continue to use their voter registration systems which they have in place but they will upload to the state database daily. The state interim system will perform all the required HAVA checks including driver's license, Social Security, felony records, death records and duplicate records checks," stated Peggy Nighswonger, state election director. "Following the election and after a new secretary of state takes office in January, we will again begin looking for a new VR system."

 

Final Databases Complete

 

Several states missed the Jan. 1, 2006 deadline, but completed the projects before primaries.

Missouri: In June, Boone County became the last of 116 counties to join the state's voter registration database. Initially, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren balked at joining the state's list, contending her local list was more accurate.

 

Eventually, Noren and state officials worked out an agreement.

 

"This provides a way for the Boone County Clerk's office to join the statewide system while continuing to operate off of the same voter registration system we've been using to offer outstanding service to Boone County voters for years," Noren said in a press release from the secretary of state's office.

 

New Jersey: The Covansys-built database was completed in May.

 

Wisconsin: After months of delays, the state implemented a $27.5 million, Accenture-built statewide database in time for the September 12 primary. Prior to its completion, jurisdictions with fewer than 5,000 residents did not maintain registered voters lists. Now every registered voter will be in the database which will track a variety of voter information. However, problems prevented the list from being checked against other state records, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

 

County databases in use

 

Colorado: Just as in Wyoming, Colorado officials opted to terminate a contract with Accenture in late 2005. After another request for proposal was sent out, the state declared its intent to hire Saber to build the database in early October. For the upcoming November election, the counties will be using their local registration systems.

 

"We have been in contact with [DOJ] about every two weeks for the last few months and they are aware of the status," said Lisa Doran, a spokeswoman for the Colorado secretary of state's office.

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