Taking One for the TEAM Taking One for the TEAM

though it cautioned against a system that removed voters from the rolls too quickly. "While it is important to purge the system of ineligible voters, it is equally important to ensure that valid and eligible voters are not removed," read the summary of the Secretary of State's response.

First, TEAM developers turned their efforts to the basic usability problems of slow connections and dropped requests. "We sent two people out on the road to counties where they said it's too slow," said Hart InterCivic spokesman Peter Lichtenheld. "After getting some negative feedback from the county users, we looked at the environment, configurations and connectivity."

"We still have counties that are using dial-up, and when you have a Web-based system with that many users on it, it's just going to be slow," said the secretary of state's spokesman Haywood. "We wanted to take that issue off the table." The state offered counties grants to beef up their IT infrastructure, which were reimbursable through federal HAVA assistance money.

The bad publicity that dogged TEAM in late 2007 has since gone away, and Haywood said TEAM performed well in recent elections, especially in the March 2008 primary. "Our approach over the last year has been to make sure the HAVA-required features are working as well as they can be," Haywood said. "Once we have that stable, we'll continue to develop add-ons to the system."

Little will change in the system from now until the presidential election this fall, though Haywood said Hart InterCivic and IBM will continue working with the state to fulfill the initial promise of TEAM's features. TEAM will also be part of a statewide data migration project managed by IBM, Unisys, Pitney Bowes and Xerox, known as the "Team for Texas," which will centralize information storage with the Texas Department of Information Resources.

"They have improved tremendously, but we're still not at 100 percent of the speed under the old system," said Galveston County's Johnson. She also said her office is still waiting on TEAM to deliver the features she was initially told to expect. Without GIS mapping from TEAM, Galveston County is paying for additional mapping software to analyze elections. The confidentiality features in TEAM - to keep police officers' home addresses out of the public record, for instance - haven't worked either, Johnson said, so her office manually deleted that information.

"We're keeping our hats on and our heads down, but we're having to work a lot harder than we used to," Johnson said. "I think someday this will be a wonderful system."

Problems with dropped voters - confusion about address records and voters who moved between counties - were addressed individually, often at the county level. In Travis County, Lopez said her office mailed notices to 9,000 people who may have been dropped inaccurately. Lopez said 800 people responded to confirm their eligibility and were able to do so without missing an election. The dropped voters, she said, were a product of switching to the new system - a problem that hasn't repeated since.

"While everyone realized it would be a challenge to create this list, I think it was larger than anyone realized," said Haywood. "The further we go into HAVA, the smoother things are going."

Lawmakers' sense of urgency in bringing about election reform is partially what made building TEAM so difficult. Now that it's in place, Haywood said constantly tweaking the system would make it hard to iron out minor problems and build confidence among county users. In Texas counties, he said, "They really need an opportunity to grow comfortable with the way elections are being run."

"Given that the system is really only a year and a half old, given that by law it had to be put together quickly, it seems pretty natural that these things would

Patrick Michels  |  Contributing Writer
Patrick Michels is based in San Francisco and Austin, Texas. He writes for Government Technology, Texas Technology and Emergency Management magazines.