A long-awaited report on the state’s troubled Department of Motor Vehicles reveals significant problems with the so-called Motor Voter program implemented ahead of last year’s primary election and offers suggestions on how to move forward — many of which those close to the initiative say are already underway.
The Ernst & Young Independent Assessment of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ New Motor Voter Application, released Friday by the state Department of Finance (DoF), reveals the California Secretary of State Office’s (SOS) voter registration data includes 83,684 “duplicate voter registration records” submitted by DMV. Three areas of record count analysis involving DMV and SOS show the total voter registration data held by the two agencies differs by 8,065 records; but SOS voter registration data includes 452 records not held by DMV, and DMV voter registration data includes 92,201 records not held by SOS. The assessment also highlighted a lack of collaboration between the agencies, which were responsible for deploying the solution to automatically register DMV users to vote. Among the takeaways:
• In a statement Friday, state Sen. Minority Leader Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, called the assessment “further proof that there needs to be a fair and independent audit of the DMV followed by a complete overhaul, and the immediate suspension of the failed Motor Voter Law.” Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, echoed her call for a DMV overhaul and said he supported Assemblyman Jim Patterson’s bipartisan request for an independent audit of DMV and Motor Voter, which was killed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
“With the DMV just now finally accepting credit card payments, it is clear the DMV will continue to be an albatross that remains stuck in the past,” Fong said via email.
• Patterson, R-Fresno, questioned the timing of the assessment’s Friday afternoon release and its completeness. The report, he said in an interview, referenced nearly 3.2 million voter registration records each at DMV and SOS — but he pointed out that Motor Voter has registered nearly 5 million to vote since its inception. The right thing to do, especially with the 2020 general election looming, would be to suspend Motor Voter, then fix and reintroduce it, the lawmaker said.
“What I think is that the level of problems in Motor Voter is evident by the frantic way in which all of the parties are finally at least demonstrating that they care about this,” Patterson said.
• In a letter Friday to DoF Director Keely Bosler, new DMV Director Steve Gordon said his agency is “committed to re-engineering business practices and implementing other operational improvements to enhance the customer experience, including Voter Registration.” DMV is developing a service level agreement for IT consulting and project management to “assess and document” Motor Voter, as well as one with SOS, to “outline business processes” for the system’s maintenance, operation and enhancement. The agency is assessing its IT governance structure and the IT staffing and service levels to further improve Motor Voter; and starting in January, has put in place weekly calls and work groups aimed at partnering more closely with the Secretary of State’s Office and the California State Transportation Agency.
Large-scale differences Ernst & Young identified between voter registration data sent from DMV and received by SOS don’t represent errors, Gordon said in the letter. Rather, he said, they result from “architectural differences between (their) respective databases” — and do not reflect “systemic problems or historic data discrepancies with a material impact” on voter registration data accuracy.
“Business process improvements and quality assurance enhancements continue, but the system is working,” Gordon said in a statement via email to Techwire, noting that Motor Voter has processed 1.27 million new voter registrations and updated more than 3.7 million.
• In a letter to Bosler on Friday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla called Motor Voter a “transformative success” for registering nearly 5 million Californians to vote; and pointed out that an independent audit he sought in October identified DMV and CDT errors that led to the transfer of inaccurate voter registration information to SOS. The Ernst & Young report, Padilla said, will “provide a constructive framework to build a stronger and more accountable administrative framework” for Motor Voter.
His office, Padilla said, has already implemented many of the recommendations in Ernst & Young’s assessment, including designating a National Voter Registration Act coordinator dedicated to Motor Voter; enhancing the monitoring of data DMV sends to SOS; and standing up the joint working group with DMV. Similar to Gordon, he said the differences in voter data between the two agencies were “expected outcomes resulting from data transfers” between their databases; and the result of “subsequent data transfers” to correct previous DMV errors.
• California Department of Technology Director Amy Tong, whose agency worked with DMV and SOS to stand up Motor Voter, said CDT “appreciates the work” of the joint DMV-SOS technical working group – and agrees with its determination that the “differences resulting from architectural differences” aren’t errors.
“CDT’s involvement with the Motor Voter program formally ended in November 2018 but the department has remained available to assist DMV and SOS with this critical program when requested,” Tong said via email in a comment to Techwire.