Dallas.org‘s Allen Gwinn, as he is wont to do, filed an open records request to get his paws on copies of the petitions TrinityVote turned in to the city secretary’s office. When he filed the request, he was expecting Excel spreadsheets, or something similar. It is 2007, after all. What he got instead was a whole mess of CDs (containing scans of each petition on PDFs) and a pretty good look at how inefficient the process is.
After the jump, I have an example of one of those scans, and a few thoughts of my own on how ridiculous this is. There may also be a reference to an underrated Dolly Parton comedy. That, in the business, is called a tease.
Let me just say that when you walk into the city secretary’s office, you get the overwhelming feeling that you’ve stepped onto the set of 1980’s 9 to 5. It just seems archaic. If a door opened, and there happened to be an entire room filled with one computer, it would not be surprising.
It should not come as a shock, then, that petitions such as TrinityVote’s are still a paper-only affair. Which means inaccurate (or partially empty — the other one he sent in, which we can’t upload for some reason, is much blanker) forms, extremely bad penmanship, and pure, blind guesswork are all very much in play. The scanned form here isn’t too bad. Others are much, much worse.
More troubling, though, is when computers actually enter the picture. When I was part of a petition drive, we found that the Dallas County Elections site had one thing, their on-site database had another, and whatever the city was using had something else.
So, here are my suggestions to fix this mess:
1. Make the whole thing digital. No one has to invent any technology; it’s already out there. How do I know? Because I like to smoke and I like to get cigarettes for free. This is relevant, I promise. See, on occasion, I will go to a bar. At that bar, there might be a rep for, say, Camel. That rep is there to promote his or her product by giving you a free taste, not unlike a crack dealer. They take your driver’s license, enter in all of the information, scan it for safety’s sake, and hand you a couple of packs. Boom. That’s it. Everything goes to a database that they then use to bombard you with Camel promotion. We seriously can’t re-purpose this exact machine for petition gathering and the like?
2. Fix the databases. Come up with one regularly updated statewide database that all city, county, and state election offices use, and that petition gatherers can tap into as well. Eliminate all others. Someone will probably write in and say, “But they already do that.” No. I’ve seen a verified signature count rise and fall and rise and fall because of it.
That takes all of the guesswork out of it, while still making it fairly difficult to tamper with.
Look, this doesn’t have to be rocket science. Nor should it be one-room schoolhouse science, which is pretty much what it is now. Give the city secretary’s office a fighting chance.