"BMV computer woes spread to election records

A recent string of computer snafus at the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has resulted in a rash of late registrations, misplaced records and a direct intervention by Gov. Mitch Daniels. And although some glitches are to be expected when any new software system is brought online, those experienced during the BMV’s recent migration have many Hoosiers frustrated, and for more reason than unwarranted late fees.

The problems originate with the National Voter Registration Act, more commonly referred to as the Motor-Voter bill. Enacted in 1993, the NVRA makes it possible to register to vote at the same place you get a driver’s license. In theory, and practice, NVRA has been an unmitigated success, giving voters new options for keeping their voting records up to date and is credited with bringing over 9 million new voters nationwide into the voting fold since its signing.

The dark side of the NVRA recently came to light, however, due to another piece of legislation, the Help America Vote Act. Enacted in 2002, HAVA was a direct response to the calls made for cleaning up the election process after Florida’s 2000 presidential debacle. HAVA rides atop other voting reforms by setting up commissions to explore new voting methods, performing test-runs of new and current equipment, as well as providing funds for verifying voter records, in addition to many other tasks.

Although helping Americans vote is a worthwhile cause for any piece of legislation, HAVA has something of an ironic twist to it. Over the past few months thousands of Indiana voters have been purged from the voting rolls and are now ineligible to vote in the upcoming elections.

Take for example the case of Melissa O’Rourke. O’Rourke has been a registered voter for more than a decade and has voted in every election she’s been eligible for: presidential, off-year or primary. She became a registered voter through the auspices of the NVRA, and has used the BMV frequently to update her voting records. She did so again in January, after a recent move, and even voted in the May 2006 primary. Imagine her surprise when she received a postcard from the Marion County Board of Elections telling her that her voting registration was cancelled.

“Evidently, when I did a voter registration address change at the BMV this past January, I ended up with a duplicate registration,” O’Rourke said. “So, through no fault of my own, I am no longer a registered voter, and I am pissed!”

The postcard O’Rourke received informing her of her now defunct voting status was actually the second mailing she had recently about elections. In fact, every registered voter in the state should have received a postcard just like O’Rourke’s first, as part of Secretary of State Todd Rokita’s plan to clean up the state’s voting rolls.

These postcards served two purposes. The first, to provide general election information, such as a reminder for the date of Election Day and an Internet address with polling information, served primarily as a vehicle for the second purpose, which was to test the accuracy of voter mailing addresses. The directive for gathering this information was provided by HAVA, but the guidelines used by the Secretary’s Office were prescribed by the NVRA, and the state itself has spent $2 million during the process of meeting HAVA compliance.

Postcards that found correct addresses could be disregarded, but those that did not, for whatever reason — forwarding to a new address, a move out of state, a death, etc. — and were returned triggered a second mailing, informing the voter that their voting rights were in jeopardy due to incorrect registration. The fact that O’Rourke received a second postcard when the first was not returned, as well as her revoked voting status, led her to attempt to track down exactly what went wrong. As it turns out, the glitch-prone BMV is to blame, but HAVA is the real issue.

When O’Rourke updated her information after moving in January, it created a duplicate record within the BMV’s database. Although identical to each other, the duplicated entries caused the system to reject both. Now that every county in the state is connected to the statewide voter registration system, the implementation of which is another directive of HAVA, the changes made to registration status at places like the BMV are updated almost instantaneously throughout the system. Although O’Rourke’s cancellation of her voting registration came via the Marion County Election Board, the pertinent information used by the board to make its decision, the identical duplicate addresses, having already been mismanaged by the BMV, saw its error compounded in producing the cancellation, a direct result of the statewide registration system.

Editor’s note: Attempts to reach the BMV for comment on this story were unsuccessful. At press time, multiple e-mail and telephone messages remain unanswered.



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