VOL. 132 | NO. 1 | Monday, January 2, 2017
Shelby County Election Commission Puts New Voter Registration System First
By Bill Dries
Before Shelby County voters get new voting machines, the elections administrator wants a new voter registration system to begin a badly needed upgrade of election technology.
“Mostly, we really need a system that I don’t fear is going to crash and burn,” administrator Linda Phillips said.
She and the five election commissioners are working on a request for proposals and intend to have the new voter registration system installed and working by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
The election commission’s budget for the current fiscal year has $1 million available for such a system.
“I really do not know,” she said of the exact cost of a new system. “The model in registration systems is moving more toward software than service. So a relatively low upfront price, but you pay an annual maintenance license fee. … I would expect it to be less than $2 million without question.
“It would be more efficient,” Phillips said. “It would be more robust. The system we are using is 20 years old and it was never designed to have 120 concurrent users as we often will in an election.”
A new system with “some bells and whistles” could help other administrative functions beyond voter registration, such as the election commission’s help desk module on election day, which runs on a separate system.
“Help desk involves voter problems,” she said. “It involves poll worker problems. It involves machine problems. I’d like a system that we have our machine inventory in. … What more logical place to track complaints and issues on help desk than in that system.”
A new system would also eliminate the need for election commission workers to enter details on registration forms. It would have optical character recognition and intelligent character recognition not in the current system.
“So that forms that we get, where people have typed them or filled them out on the internet and sent them to us – we don’t have to re-enter that data,” Phillips said. “We just scan it and it repopulates the fields. … I’d like a system that takes fewer screens and fewer clicks. Right now entering a voter registration takes much longer than it should.”
And it’s difficult if not impossible to do more than one thing on the system at a time.
“I can run a report and freeze everybody else out of the system because it’s just turning so hard and it’s thinking so hard that nobody else can do anything,” Phillips said.
It would also make it easier to update and keep current voter rolls.
Phillips said the current rolls show 200,000 voters out of approximately 550,000 in the county haven’t cast a ballot in the last four years.
“I suspect most of them no longer live here,” she said. “It would help a lot. We’re required under Tennessee law to do list-maintenance activity every other year and doing them in the current database is very difficult because it’s so slow.”