Limited Review of the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics' Voter Registration System

GGD-82-70: Published: Apr 19, 1982. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 1982.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the District of Columbia's automatic data processing (ADP) operations to determine: (1) how voter registration problems in a recent election might have jeopardized voters' rights, and (2) what steps the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics should take to secure normal election participation by registered voters.

The Board's internal controls over its computerized voter registration process, as well as its software development and maintenance practices, are totally inadequate. The voter registration list used for the recent elections was inaccurate because the Board did not check the accuracy of updates or maintain control over the computerized master file system. Voter master file inaccuracies were discovered, but were not corrected before the election. The computer master file and the manually maintained voter registration card file were not reconciled, nor were they identical. Many voters were inconvenienced because they had to cast challenged ballots. The absence of a full-time Elections Administrator, together with other vacancies in the Elections Office and a lack of written procedures, adversely affected preparations for the elections. In several cases, people could not vote because ballots were not available for them to use.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The recommendation is no longer applicable; the election has been held.

    Recommendation: The Board of Elections and Ethics should adequately staff the Elections Office to prepare for and conduct the upcoming election.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Board of Elections and Ethics

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The activity has been reorganized, and GAO no longer knows the status of internal controls. The staff is not available, nor expected in the forseeable future to perform the work necessary to make a judgement.

    Recommendation: The Board of Elections and Ethics should establish strict internal controls over the entire voter registration process, manual and automated, to ensure that all additions, changes, and deletions are handled accurately.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Board of Elections and Ethics

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Board of Elections and Ethics significantly changed its ADP activity, transferring it from SHARE to an in-house computer activity, with the Board in control of hardware and software, and responsible for all applications. This is only an interim step, as current plans provide for new hardware and further software improvements.

    Recommendation: The Board of Elections and Ethics should establish strict control and accountability over custody of the computer software, use of the software, and changes to and testing of the software.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Board of Elections and Ethics

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Concommitant with the re-registrant activity, the Board of Elections and Ethics reorganized and refined the data processing and voter registrant activities. A successful registration and election was carried out. Staff is not available now, nor is it envisioned in the near future, to evaluate all nuances of the software application.

    Recommendation: The Board of Elections and Ethics should verify that the computer software used to produce, update, and print the voter registration list is accurate and reliable.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Board of Elections and Ethics

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The District re-registered voters for the fall 1983 election and intends to continue voter re-validation through the 1984 Presidential election.

    Recommendation: The Board of Elections and Ethics should develop a complete and accurate list of qualified registered voters.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Board of Elections and Ethics

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As pointed out previously, changes have been made, a successful election held and, overall, the election process seems improved. Staff is neither available nor is it expected to be for verification of the extent to which the recommendations have been implemented or are no longer valid because of other changes in the Board of Election and Ethics.

    Recommendation: The Board of Elections and Ethics should: (1) establish policies, standards, and procedures for all aspects of ADP operations such as long-range planning, software development and maintenance, computer processing, computer file library, and computer file backup and disaster recovery; (2) establish written procedures for election preparations; (3) establish clear lines of authority and responsibility over the ADP unit; and (4) prepare conversion and implementation procedures for the new online voter registration system, including strict internal controls over operation of the system.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Board of Elections and Ethics

 

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