Data Mismatch Has Voters Seeing Pink

L.A. County Provisional ballot.

For 12,000 people who normally sign the Roster but instead had to fill out a pink provisional envelope during the last primary election—a database glitch may have been the reason.

Don’t blame the Russians for this one!

Software problems regarding blank birthdates in a database, not cyberattack, were the cause of widespread voter roster omissions in the June 5 election, according to the Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.

That database glitch resulted in many more people than usual placing their voted ballot in a pink provisional envelope instead of the ballot box.

Additionally, a 21-minute window during which the election website went dark from 11:20 p.m. to 11:41 p.m. on June 5 was a result of online demand that overwhelmed the site, not a cyberattack.

Both findings were released August 1 in a report conducted by tech giant IBM for Los Angeles County.

“An extensive independent review by information technology leader IBM Security Services identified software misconfigurations—not a cyberattack—as the root cause of the omission of 118,509 names from printed voter rosters in precincts across Los Angeles County for the June 5 Primary Election,” the report said.

The Street Registers are a part of the roster print job and were also affected in the same manner as the voter rosters, the county said.

No voters were removed from voting rolls because of the roster error and their right to vote was never at issue, the county said in a statement.

The Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk said the roster print problem ultimately affected approximately 12,000 voters who went to the polls and cast provisional ballots, which were processed immediately and counted as part of the official election results.

The independent review verified that there was no pattern of voters being excluded from the printed roster due to demographic characteristics or geographic boundaries.

In its investigation of the omissions, IBM found that formatting changes in the statewide voter database made it incompatible with the software the county uses to generate the printed lists for polling places.

According to IBM, the County’s Voter Information Management System application had not been updated to process this state format change, so the system generated voter records with empty spaces for the birthdates of 118,509 voters.

Since the birthdates were missing, the county’s system incorrectly classified these voters as “underage” and left them off the printed precinct rosters.

IBM ran multiple simulations to determine what happened. It found that the incompatible state database was initially used to develop a voter roster file for printing. That initial export was stopped after 118,509 records were processed with empty birthdate fields.
Then a second export was started, using the county’s own voter database. That export generated correct voter information. 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 also investigated a 21-minute outage of the county’s voter information website,, on the evening of the election after the polls had closed. Once again, it found no evidence of a cyberattack and attributed the outage to heavy demand on the website.

The website is hosted by the County’s Internal Services Department, the county said in a statement. “The Registrar and Chief Information Officer are working with the Internal Services Department to make sure the bandwidth and settings are adjusted to accommodate expected spikes in election day/night activity and to avoid disruption to the website.

“The report’s findings provide clear answers for our department that will aid efforts to bolster security, improve quality control protocols and restore public confidence in the elections process,” said Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. “Moving forward, we are focused on building contingency plans and maintaining safeguards to ensure all voters are able to participate in fair and transparent elections in L.A. County.”

IBM recommended that the county undertake a series of corrective actions, including:
• Updating the software code so the state and local voter databases are compatible
• Implementing new quality control practices for Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk staff
• Resolving deficiencies in the system used to create the printed voter roster
• Increasing capacity and changing configurations on to accommodate periods of high demand

Logan said the county has already put in place measures to ensure that voter rosters are correctly printed for the General Election on November 6, 2018.


Annemarie Donkin

Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.

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