Digital Communities

IBM Blames File Format Change for Leaving 118K Voters Off the Rolls in Southern California in June

According to Los Angeles County figures, faulty rosters affected roughly 2.3% of registered voters.

by Dakota Smith, Los Angeles Times / August 2, 2018

(TNS) — Incompatible software was one of the reasons that 118,000 people were left off Los Angeles County voter rosters on election day in June, according to an outside review released Wednesday.

The investigation by IBM Security found no evidence that a security breach caused the names to be left off the voter rolls, according to a summary of the report released by the county.

When county voters went to the polls on June 5, a significant number of people discovered their names weren’t on the rolls, fueling anger and confusion.

The faulty rosters affected roughly 2.3% of the registered voters across the county and 35% of voting locations, according to county figures, officials said in June.

L.A. County elections chief Dean C. Logan said at the time that the foul-up involved the names printed on the rosters for polling places and had no impact on voter eligibility.

However, questions remained about what caused the names to be left off the rosters and at one point, Logan said he couldn’t rule out a cyberattack.

IBM Security’s executive summary also found there was a disruption of the 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.”

The IBM summary blames several factors for the missing voter names, including a file format change made to the official voter list provided by the state.

“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 birth dates of 118,509 voters,” the county said in a news release.

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

The IBM summary also says that the county's system didn’t reset after an “earlier job was stopped and a second job completed the remaining Voter Extract File process.”

According to the county news release, IBM ran multiple simulations to determine what happened. After an initial export 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 new release states. “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.”

Following the election, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said he was “gravely concerned” and asked the county registrar to provide him with a detailed report on the cause of the debacle. The Board of Supervisors also called for an investigation.

Poll workers were instructed on election day to give out provisional ballots to people whose names did not appear on rosters, according to his office.

Such ballots are counted after they are verified as being from registered voters. Historically, 85% to 90% of provisional ballots have been deemed valid and ultimately counted, according to county officials.

©2018 the Los Angeles Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.