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Budget Proposes Overhaul for 'Unreliable' Election Tech

Voting officials sitting behind computers
Poll worker await voters during the Democratic primary earlier this month. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The IT system Virginia uses for election tasks could get an overhaul under the proposed budget approved by the General Assembly on Thursday.

The Virginia Election and Registration Information System has been a longstanding complaint of registrars, who say it often stalls during busy periods and lacks the functionality they need to do their job. 

Registrars have used VERIS since 2007 to register voters, report election results, update precinct boundaries and manage candidate filings, among other tasks. 

The proposed budget orders the Department of Elections to put out a request for information to find a replacement for VERIS and report back to key money committees by September 1, 2020 on the costs of doing so.

A 2018 report by JLARC, the legislature’s research wing, recommended VERIS be replaced, saying that “the system continues to lack certain functionality and be unreliable.” A majority of registrars surveyed for the report said the system was not consistently operational or fast enough to do their jobs.

In 2014, registrars were unable to report the results of that year’s elections due to a surge in users. In October 2016, a surge of online applications crashed VERIS’s serverers, sparking a lawsuit that ultimately forced an extension of the voter registration period. 

The Department of Elections maintains the system is safe but agrees on the need to replace, rather than patch, the system.

In a report released November 2019, the department argued that a new system would allow registrars to handle more complex tasks, reduce lags and maintenance costs, and allow for faster updates based on changes to election law.

Walt Latham, a registrar in York County and former president of the Registrars Association of Virginia, said he didn’t believe the system was unreliable.

“But it does have issues occasionally where there are things that they have to go in and fix or it may not process something correctly,” Latham said. 

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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