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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Florida needs new elections leader

No wonder Secretary of State Ken Detzner was so opposed to the Florida Legislature’s successful push to require the state to provide online voter registration. A new independent audit found that the state’s computerized voter registration system has had significant issues ranging from reliability to security weaknesses.
No wonder Secretary of State Ken Detzner was so opposed to the Florida Legislature’s successful push to require the state to provide online voter registration. A new independent audit found that the state’s computerized voter registration system has had significant issues ranging from reliability to security weaknesses.
Published Jul. 28, 2015

No wonder Secretary of State Ken Detzner was so opposed to the Florida Legislature's successful push to require the state to provide online voter registration. A new, independent audit found that the state's computerized voter registration system has had significant issues ranging from reliability to security weaknesses. That is only the latest revelation about the shortcomings of the state's election system, which needs new leadership at the top before next year's presidential election to help avoid another national embarrassment.

The report by the state auditor general released this week found disturbing evidence that even routine records were not being kept and that the computer system was too often down. The department did not track scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, the reasons for problems and delays, or the type of work that was done. The system was down eight times between December and February, including three straight days in February. Many drivers keep better maintenance records on their cars than the state has been keeping on its voter registration computer system.

Even more concerning is the state's lackadaisical approach to security. The audit cited inappropriate access privileges for 14 user accounts, a lack of controls on changes to the database and a lack of training about security. There were such serious concerns about the security of confidential information that the auditors intentionally did not reveal the details because they feared disclosure would leave the computer system vulnerable to hackers.

Detzner's responses to the audit are not entirely reassuring. He said the department has improved its record-keeping, training and security controls. But for the 14 users who had improper access to the computer system, the state's response was to change their job descriptions. Detzner indicated that in the future some workers will be able to see information on the computer without being able to make changes to the data. How comforting.

If this were the only red flag about the state's election system, that would be one thing. But it has been one debacle after another since Gov. Rick Scott named Detzner in 2012 to succeed Kurt Browning, who was the former Pasco County supervisor of elections and respected around the state. Scott and Detzner attempted a disastrous purge of noncitizens of the voter rolls shortly before the 2012 election that used bad data and triggered an uprising from county elections officials and intervention from the Justice Department. Detzner also told elections supervisors not to allow voters to submit absentee ballots at remote dropoff sites. That was obviously aimed at Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, who still uses the sites after a visit by a state observer showed no problems.

The relationship between Detzner and the elections supervisors has not gotten any better. He tried to defeat the 2015 online voter registration bill after he indicated he supported it, and he just met with a group of elections supervisors two weeks ago and did not mention the critical audit. The Senate had every reason to withhold confirmation of Detzner this spring, and Scott reappointed him. But Detzner will lose his job if the Senate again refuses to confirm him during the 2016 legislative session.

It should not take that long. Detzner does not have the confidence of state lawmakers, county elections supervisors or the voters. The critical audit is the last straw, and Florida cannot afford to have another debacle in 2016 like the 2000 presidential election recount. Scott should replace Detzner with someone who has experience overseeing elections, a commitment to making voting easier rather than harder and the ability to work with county elections supervisors.