False Start: Vermont Experiences Issues with AVR Rollout

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2017 marked the year that Vermont joined the list of states offering automatic voter registration (AVR), but the state recently had to pause its rollout after some inaccurate data from the state DMV resulted in some ineligible voters being registered. Vermont Public Radio has more:

Problems with the implementation of Vermont’s automatic voter registration system led to some Vermont residents who are not eligible to vote being added to the state’s voter rolls, officials say, adding that no ineligible voters had the chance to fraudulently vote in any elections…

Vermont’s automatic voter registration program was created by a 2016 law, and officially started on January 2. A release from [Secretary of State Jim] Condos’ office said that the Department of Motor Vehicles shared more data than it was supposed to with elections officials during the first 18 days of the program, resulting in some ineligible residents being registered to vote.

Condos said officials at the DMV notified the secretary of state’s office, which handles Vermont’s elections, on January 20.

“We immediately pulled the plug and froze the system so that it would not accept any more, and then at the same time we canceled any pending registrations until we could clear this up,” Condos said in an interview Friday.

Condos said the issue was only occurring for 18 days, and elections staff are now reviewing all of the records so that all eligible voters are automatically registered, but ineligible voters stay out of the state’s system.

There was some concern that individuals holding green cards who were registered could be subject to legal action, but SoS Condos assured them that is not the case:

Condos said[] state officials should be able to resolve the issue without any of the affected residents taking action. He also said that because there aren’t any elections going on, there’s no chance that anyone who was wrongly entered into the state’s system got a chance to vote illegally.

Condos said Vermont residents shouldn’t worry about being deported because of the mistake.

“There is protection built into the law to protect people who accidentally are registered, and in this case it certainly was not the fault of anyone who ended up being registered that shouldn’t have been,” he said. “This was the fault of the bad information that we had received from DMV.”

Condos said DMV officials owned up to the mistake and have been working hard since the problem was found to correct it.

According to the Burlington Free Press, the state DMV is working to address the data problems in order to prevent any more erroneous registrations:

Michael Smith, director of operations for the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, said Friday he knows of only four people who were affected in this way, but he said the automatic registration system was shut down on Jan. 20 anyway to find and correct the problem.

Smith hopes to again transmit voter data from the DMV to the state Secretary of State’s office next week.

“(Information technology) has gone through and looked at all the programs and made some adjustments,” Smith said. “Staff members are testing 200 variations of 20 transactions so we can make sure it works.”

With all of the interest in AVR nationwide, Vermont’s experience is a reminder that the key to success is good communication between state agencies providing data (usually DMV) and election offices. What’s hard – and can get overlooked – is that agency data isn’t necessarily structured with voting and its attendant eligibility restrictions in mind. Ensuring that this existing data can be made to work for a new purpose is a behind-the-scenes challenge for any state seeking to implement AVR.

You can bet that these issues will get lots of attention in the current environment … stay tuned.

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