A coding glitch involving “motor-voter” data at the state Department of Licensing left nearly 7,000 voters unregistered to vote this month.
Overall, registration data for 25,000 motorists were not sent to state elections officers at the Office of the Secretary of State since 2011.
But only 7,000 were left without voter registrations because many were already registered or signed up later at another venue. Most of the affected would-be voters were women getting new license numbers to reflect name changes.
This is the second big, recent example of DOL’s poor handling of data. Last month the agency stopped making unauthorized releases of driver data to federal immigration officials.
The bad news is that DOL blames a 30-year-old legacy software system for the “motor-voter” errors. That system is being replaced in two phases: the vehicle-licensing portion was completed in phase one, and the driver-licensing piece is scheduled for September.
The good news in Thurston County is that only 341 voters’ data failed to move from DOL to the state voter database. Of those, about 100 did not get ballots for the Tuesday, Feb. 13, special election, according to county Auditor Mary Hall. She said ballots were sent to them on Wednesday and they should receive them “by Friday.”
There are important South Sound measures on the ballot: a proposed sales tax increase in Olympia to build housing for the homeless, a tax levy for technology and safety in Olympia public schools, and a bond measure for school construction for Yelm Community Schools.
Voters can check their status at myvote.wa.gov or call the county elections desk at 360-786-5408.
In the best case, the breakdown at Licensing is a one-time inconvenience. But it is reminiscent of errors at the Department of Corrections where inaccurate calculations of inmates’ good-time credits led to the early release of many serious offenders. That failure by upper management to heed line workers’ concerns let the problem go unchecked for more than a decade.
The motor voter errors were first reported by the state elections office to Licensing on Dec. 4, according to Lori Augino, state elections director. Her office got involved after a Skamania County worker notified state elections.
IT staff at DOL told the state elections staffers were told it was a one-time problem, but as they looked deeper into the problem they suspected the problem was much larger. DOL’s confirmation of a system-wide problem did not occur until Jan. 26 and the problem was fixed Jan. 30, according to DOL director Pat Kohler.
It is good that DOL is taking action quickly, monitoring the situation daily and encouraging staff to send “risk” concerns up the chain of command.
But state government under Gov. Jay Inslee’s watch needs to do better for the public.