[Image courtesy of TransGriot]
Last week, just before Election Day, the Washington Secretary of State revealed that it had identified as many as 21,000 voters who had not been sent ballots because their updated information was not included in the voter list and thus never made its way to county election officials responsible for mailing ballots.
The problem apparently stems from a miscommunication between the Secretary's office and the state Department of Licensing (DOL), which handles motor vehicle information. Under the federal "motor voter" law, citizens are supposed to be able to register to vote or update their information at a variety of state agencies, including DOL. For some reason, data from 21,000 voters who did so didn't make it from DOL to the voter rolls.
Whose fault this is has become a point of contention. According to the Associated Press:
The secretary of state's office said it has not been receiving online voter registration updates from the Department of Licensing and just learned of the problem Friday. But licensing officials said they have been forwarding all the appropriate information since the online update option was implemented in August.
"We believe it's really important to get it right, and we believe we did," said Gigi Zenk, a spokeswoman for the licensing department.
Katie Blinn, the co-director of elections in the state, said licensing was switching to a different method for sharing the information but the secretary of state's office had indicated it wasn't ready to start using that method until after the election. She said the office didn't even know that this was an option on the licensing website.
"Obviously, there was a miscommunication," Blinn said.
Washington's experience is a cautionary tale for any state that is in the process of upgrading its registration process to better serve its voters.
Up to a point, this story should have been good news for voters: two state agencies responsible for collecting and managing information about citizens were planning to cooperate to allow citizens to engage in one-stop data shopping to update their addresses for licensing and voting.
Obviously, it was successful in one sense; 21,000 people found the right part of the DOL website and made the effort to update their information for voting purposes.
Unfortunately, because of a failure to communicate - between DOL and the Secretary AND between state government and citizens/voters - this project became an unfortunate overpromise to voters on which the state ultimately underdelivered.
As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter who is at fault here - the problem just needs to be fixed, so as not to discourage citizens from taking advantage of modernized registration procedures that will benefit election officials and voters alike in the long run.
Washington State now knows that cooperation between DOL and the Secretary didn't work last time. Here's hoping they decide to share the blame and find a way to make it work next time, when far more than 21,000 voters are likely to need the service this cooperation offers.
In other words, the best way to fix a failure to communicate is to - you guessed it - communicate.