Youngkin administration fails to update Virginia election data system

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A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that paper ballots were scanned into Virginia’s Elections Registration and Information System. Ballots are not scanned into the system, but paper documents are. This version has been corrected.

RICHMOND — The administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has said it will shut down the state’s election registration and data system for a few days each of the next six weeks as the aging network is far late on a scheduled update.

Problems with the circa-2007 system — known as the Virginia Election Registration and Information System, or VERIS — have been documented since at least 2018, when a legislative oversight committee recommended considering a replacement. The Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission criticized the system for having “long-standing reliability issues that continue to slow its processing speed during peak usage periods.”

The General Assembly has earmarked $2 million in 2020 to start the process of selecting a new system, and election officials said last year they intended to select a vendor by then. end of 2021. The new system, which was expected to cost up to $29 million, had to operate side-by-side with the old for most of 2022 before the transition could be completed.

But no contract was awarded. Youngkin’s office said Thursday that “mismanagement of deadlines has resulted in a project that is critically behind schedule.”

Youngkin recently replaced former Elections Commissioner Chris Piper, appointed by former Gov. Ralph Northam (D), with Susan Beals, a Republican and former Chesterfield County Board of Elections member.

On Thursday, Piper said the delay in awarding a contract was a consequence of trying to make the best decision for the state. “There was a desire to do it this summer, but better to get it right than to hit any deadline,” he said. “A strong working database that can last a decade or more in the Commonwealth is the goal.”

Youngkin administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing deal, said the goal was to secure the contract as soon as possible.

In the meantime, the state will take the VERIS system offline Friday through Sunday for the next six weeks for maintenance and to update it with new political districts in the state. The Virginia Supreme Court redrew political boundaries last year after a bipartisan redistricting commission failed to do the job, and Youngkin administration officials said the VERIS system could not absorb the new data without being periodically closed.

The closures could interrupt some registrar activities, such as updating voter rolls, but should not cause lasting problems, Youngkin officials said.

Officials said they did not suggest any problems with the past elections because of VERIS. The 2018 legislative report said the system “provides a wide range of functions, including those related to voter registration, the geographic alignment of streets with precincts and districts, and the recording and transmission of election results on election night”.

But the review faulted VERIS for lacking “functionality”, saying its raw mapping capability makes it difficult for registrars to assign voters to precincts, paper documents must be scanned in small batches “to avoid system outages. system”, and the system is not intuitive to use, “which makes it more likely that registrars enter information incorrectly.”

Youngkin officials said they expected the system to be functional for legislative and local elections this fall, and noted that while the new system was selected on schedule, it was not supposed to manage this year’s elections on its own.

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