When the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was signed in 2002, it promised to nudge the nation's voting procedures into the 21st century by eliminating paper ballots and streamlining the technology behind voter records. HAVA set off a mad rush in state offices to compile a single list of all counties' registered voters.
Five years later, Texas met the federal deadline with the Texas Election Administration Management (TEAM) system, a Web-based tool built by IBM, with software from Austin-based Hart InterCivic Inc., which also developed the eSlate electronic voting system that replaced paper ballots in Texas and other parts of the country.
Administered by the Texas Secretary of State's office, TEAM promised to replace county-level voter registry software - saving money and offering an array of tools for slicing data.
Instead the system caught a wave of bad press after a few county officials complained about slow response times and dropped voters. A state audit found widespread dissatisfaction with TEAM among several Texas counties, some of which purchased their own software to keep elections running smoothly.
Some county officials predict November's presidential election will bring record-breaking voter turnout. While developers and state officials say TEAM is up to the challenge, the stakes are high as county officials watch how their voter rolls are managed.
Deadline Met, Problems Fingered
Streamlining data from hundreds of counties - many of which still operate their own systems - has been a massive undertaking for Texas. A tough federal deadline and a database that dictates who is eligible to vote added pressure to TEAM's implementation. It's a similar process to what agencies statewide are going through to bring online a more responsive, efficient and centralized generation of systems to handle massive amounts of data.
The original plans envisioned a system that would surpass the HAVA requirements and incorporate GIS mapping, image storage and data analysis. TEAM's goal was to provide a Web-based elections management solution for every county.
"To go from 254 voter registration lists at the county level to one statewide list is a huge undertaking," said Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office.
Developers began building TEAM in 2004 as a customized version of Hart InterCivic's Java-based eRegistry elections software, with an Oracle database system, housed on IBM servers. The timeline left developers two years before the first federal HAVA deadline. A cohort of 15 Texas counties tested TEAM's features and rooted out bugs in mock elections. After receiving a one-year extension from the federal government, Texas successfully met its new deadline by rolling out TEAM in January 2007.
"You ask IT professionals and they would've wished for more time to get this stuff in place," said Justin Levitt, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Levitt has watched HAVA implementation around the country and said that while there have been kinks in many systems, the HAVA timetable was "appropriately aggressive," especially after publicized election troubles, such as the infamous Florida recount in 2000.
"Having one statewide list of computerized voters is a big deal," Levitt said. "A lot of people expect that on the day of delivery, a product is going to be working properly. I'd be shocked if that happened. I haven't heard of a system where rollout 1.0 has worked at lightning-fast speed."
The TEAM implementation was no exception; the new system immediately frustrated some county officials. The system allowed updating up to 40 voters at a time, but from some local offices, form submissions of more than a few voters at a time became time consuming or were dropped outright.
"It was not user-friendly at all. It was slow," said Carolyn Craig, elections registrar of Henderson County. Craig said she and her co-workers struggled with their daily updates to the