Arizona Capitol Times: Reagan to Blame

Sec of State Michele Reagan

Representatives of IBM say Michele Reagan is off the mark in blaming the tech giant for a high-profile blunder in which the office failed to send 200,000 publicity pamphlets for the May 17 special election, and that the secretary of state instead is to blame.

 

Representatives of IBM say Michele Reagan is off the mark in blaming the tech giant for a high-profile blunder in which the office failed to send 200,000 publicity pamphlets for the May 17 special election, and that the secretary of state instead is to blame.

The Secretary of State’s Office attributed the snafu with the publicity pamphlets to a “vendor error,” and said the vendor in question was IBM.

But the company said it was in no way responsible for the un-mailed pamphlets. In fact, IBM’s contract with the secretary of state expired two months before the Reagan’s office learned of the problem.

Reagan’s office stood by its insistence that a vendor error by IBM caused the problem, saying the company did not sufficiently respond to a request for information about how to use the software system to compile mailing lists.

Under the terms of its contract with the Secretary of State’s Office, IBM provided software maintenance, support and enhancements for the office’s Statewide Voter Registration System. That contract expired at the end of February. IBM lobbyist Dean Miller said Reagan’s office had concerns about the cost of the contract, which ran about $800,000 per year.

Miller said IBM helped develop and integrate software in 2011 so it could be used by the Secretary of State’s Office. As part of its work, Miller said IBM worked with Secretary of State’s Office staff to create what he called a “functionality key.” Essentially, it was a way for the office to extract mailing lists from the state’s database of voters.

However, IBM had no responsibility for actually using the software, Miller said. IBM’s only role since 2011 has been to maintain the software and update it as needed. The responsibility for using the software to compile mailing lists lies with the Secretary of State’s Office, he said.

“In terms of carrying out the functions and duties of that office, that would be, of course, their responsibility,” Miller said.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the error led to 200,000 publicity pamphlets not being mailed to households with two registered voters. The problem only affected voters outside of Pima and Maricopa counties, the office said. Pima and Maricopa counties send their own voter mailing lists to the Secretary of State’s Office, but the office compiles its own list for the state’s other 13 counties.

Miller said the current staff at the Secretary of State’s Office may have been unaware of the functionality key. He said there has been “a lot of turnover” at the office since Reagan took the helm in January 2015. The May 17 special election was the first since Reagan took office which required the secretary of state to send publicity pamphlets to voters, as required by state law for ballot measures.

After the Secretary of State’s Office learned that 200,000 pamphlets hadn’t been mailed, it contacted a “lower-level IBM employee” who used to work on the account. That employee informed Reagan’s office about the existence of the functionality key, Miller said.

Miller said the response from Reagan’s office was to blame IBM for not informing it about the functionality key

“They made an accusation that we were hiding information from them. And this was well after the contract had expired, mind you,” Miller said.

Clint Roswell, a New York-based spokesman for IBM, said the company’s role as a system integrator did not include executing or advising the secretary of state on its business processes.

“So, basically, we had nothing to do with the software contract,” Roswell said.

Even if IBM had still been under contract, Miller said it would have had no role in compiling the mailing list or operating the software.

“Let’s say, for instance, had the secretary of state actually extended the agreement an additional year, it would not have been our responsibility to advise them on how their business processes work,” he said.

Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Reagan, reiterated his previous comments that the mistake was the result of an error by IBM, and said emails between the company and the Secretary of State’s Office will validate that assertion.

He said the Secretary of State’s Office had specifically requested information from IBM about how to use the software to compile mailing lists, and that the company had left out important information. He said he did not know when Reagan’s office made that request.

“We trust our vendors to give us accurate instructions on how to select mailing lists and how to come up with the appropriate mailing lists. If particular instructions are left out inadvertently, that is a problem. Obviously, we’ve taken responsibility for that problem. But at the end of the day, we feel that the instructions that were provided by our vendor weren’t sufficient to the task,” Roberts said.

Roberts acknowledged that “things have seemingly gone well” in other recent elections cycles in which the Secretary of State’s Office used the same software. But newer staff had requested specific instructions about how to export a mailing list, he said, “and those specific instructions fail to recognize and identify the specific steps that are required.”

In a May 19 blog post on the Secretary of State’s Office website, Reagan laid the blame at the feet of the office’s vendor, which Roberts identified as IBM.

“Here’s the reality of the pamphlet issue – the vendor in charge of developing the pamphlet mailing list failed in their job and we won’t be working with them again,” Reagan wrote. “This occurred on our watch and we are responsible.”

Roberts said at the time that the vendor is supposed to indicate to the Secretary of State’s Office how to get the data it needs to create mailing lists.

“And one of the steps that they left out, unfortunately, was this back-end criteria that caused the problems,” he said.

Roberts said the office first became aware of the un-mailed pamphlets on April 22, and confirmed the problem on April 25. Reagan’s office mailed out the pamphlets on April 29, he said.

Election officials sent out early ballots on April 20. State law requires that the secretary of state send a publicity pamphlet containing information about ballot measures to all households with at least one registered voter before those voters receive their early ballots. Attorney General Mark Brnovich concluded that Reagan broke the law by not sending out the ballots in a timely manner, though he said there is no remedy in statute.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
Contribute