• The (Daytona Beach, Fla.) News-Journal, Aug. 5
With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon and the ghosts of elections past still haunting it, you would think Florida would have an acute sense for ensuring its voting processes are working as smoothly and efficiently as a Ferrari engine.
A recent report, though, indicates the state still is operating like a ‘74 Gremlin.
The state auditor general, an independent officer hired by the Legislature, recently identified seven weaknesses with Florida’s voter registration system, a computerized database of voter information. They included:
— Inadequate maintenance and performance controls to reduce the risk of equipment failures. Officials said the system crashed eight times just between December and February; one failure lasted three days.
— Disaster recovery plans that have not been tested in the last four years.
— Fourteen state employees who had “inappropriate” access to the database.
— Employees who had been on the job nearly a year who received no security training.
— Security controls intended to protect the confidentiality of data needed to be improved.
To summarize, the state’s voter database is at risk of failing and/or being compromised. That would make for some potentially chaotic voting scenarios in a high-stakes national election — everything from valid registered voters being denied the opportunity to cast a ballot, to allegations of voter fraud.
Hanging chads would seem quaint by comparison.
The database has been the subject of controversy in recent years when Republicans led by Gov. Rick Scott attempted to eliminate non-citizens from the voter rolls. That project was bungled when legitimate voters got caught up in the purge, the victims of corrupted and confusing data. Apparently it still is unreliable.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner, whose office is charged with administering elections, didn’t dispute the auditor’s report and instead responded with a list of ways the department is working to resolve the problems. That’s encouraging, although the ongoing hiccups and setbacks with Florida’s electoral system long ago became frustrating. Will they never end?
More troubling, though, was the reaction by the state’s local supervisors of elections. In a letter to Detzner, Brian Corley, the Pasco County supervisor of elections who is president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, criticized the secretary and his office for failing to communicate with the supervisors, the ground troops who are tasked with carrying out state election policies. In particular, Corley complained that at a meeting last month with the secretary to discuss the voter registration system, Detzner did not share the results of the audit even though he already had responded to it a month earlier.
That’s not the first time county supervisors of elections have said the secretary has given them the cold shoulder. They also have clashed with him over the database purge and the new online voter registration bill passed this year.
“This lack of communications, left unchecked, will do nothing more than create an environment that obstructs the efficiency and innovation of our collaborative work,” Corley wrote.
If that conflict produces Election Day disorder, the biggest losers will be Florida voters, and the Sunshine State’s national reputation for electoral incompetence will be further justified. The clock is ticking on getting the bugs out of the system — particularly human error.