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Software incompatibilities cited in review of missing L.A. County voter names

Software incompatibilities cited in review of missing L.A. County voter names
The faulty rosters affected roughly 2.3% of registered voters across Los Angeles County and 35% of voting locations, according to county figures. (Mario Tama / AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles County’s election software was unable to process a formatting change in state voter data, contributing to 118,500 names being omitted from eligible-voter rosters on election day in June, according to an executive summary of an independent review released Wednesday.

There was no evidence of a security breach, the summary said.

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The county paid IBM Security Services $230,000 to investigate the foul-up, which officials said affected roughly 2.3% of registered voters across the county and 35% of voting locations.

L.A. County elections chief Dean Logan said in June that the problem had no impact on voter eligibility and that poll workers were instructed on election day to give provisional ballots to people whose names did not appear on rosters.

But the omissions prompted elected officials and civil rights groups to demand that the county review its election process.

IBM recommended that the county update its software code so the state and local voter databases are compatible. It also recommended “new quality control practices” for L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk staff.

The county said Wednesday that measures are in place to make sure that voter rosters are correctly printed for the Nov. 6 election.

County officials declined to release IBM’s full report, citing security and legal concerns.

“This was a sensitive, multifaceted investigation commissioned by County Counsel,” county spokeswoman Lennie LaGuire said in an email. “The county needed to analyze legal rights and remedies related to these events. The review also included a deep cybersecurity forensics analysis of the systems involved in the events that contain extremely sensitive information.”

In a news release summarizing IBM’s findings, the county said its election system software had not been updated after the state changed how it formatted voter data. “So the system generated voter records with empty spaces for the birth dates of 118,509 voters,” the release said.

As a result, the county’s system incorrectly classified these voters as underage and left them off the printed precinct rosters, the county said.

According to the county, IBM ran multiple simulations to determine what happened.

After an initial export by the county was stopped after 118,509 records were processed with empty birth-date fields, a second export of data was started, using L.A. County’s voter database.

“That export generated correct voter information,” the county said. “However, the system did not clear the erroneous data from the first export. As a result, the incorrect data was merged with correct data, leading to the error in printing the rosters.”

In its review, IBM was not able to determine when the first process was started or why it was stopped because of a lack of system audit logs, LaGuire said.

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The IBM executive summary doesn’t address the issue of why election workers apparently didn’t notice the missing voter names on the rosters before polls opened.

Election workers typically perform several checks during the printing process to ensure that the names printed on the rolls match those in the database. In June, Logan said the county’s “quality control steps that are in place didn’t identify this issue, so we need to identify what was insufficient in this process.”

The investigation also found there was a disruption of the LAVote.net website that started at 11:20 p.m. on election day. The site was restored by 11:41 p.m.

County officials on Wednesday attributed the outage to “heavy demand on the website.”

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Wednesday that the IBM findings “provide a constructive road map to ensure that the error is not repeated in future elections. I expect that Los Angeles County will implement and follow the recommendations in this report.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn said Wednesday that the county will “ensure that the registrar-recorder’s office fixes this issue so that this never happens again. Now more than ever, we need to ensure the public’s trust in our election system.”

7:25 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the IBM review and comments from a county spokeswoman, Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn.

This article was originally published at 12:05 p.m.

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