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CA DMV voter registration was rolled out despite compromised security -- how and why did that happen?

Signage is seen at the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) February 6, 2009 in Pasadena, California.
Signage is seen at the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) February 6, 2009 in Pasadena, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

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According to an L.A. Times investigation, California launched its Department of Motor Vehicles voter registration program in June of 2018 despite the fact that it had bugs and security issues.

For example, about a week before the program was to roll out, the computer network was found trying to connect to servers in Croatia. And this was one of many issues that came up as the program was rushed to be ready by the June 5 primaries.

According to the L.A. Times investigation, the program was a joint effort by the DMV, Chief Information Officer Amy Tong and Secretary of State Alex Padilla -- but no department seemed to have the lead or ultimate authority on the project.

So what went wrong? Why was the rollout rushed? And what does this portend for the future of the program?    

We reached out to the California DMV, who were unable to join. They sent us this statement:

“We regret the issues that have occurred with the New Motor Voter rollout.  We continue to actively work with the Secretary of State and other interested parties to ensure there are no errors in the information DMV sends to the Secretary of State moving forward.  DMV takes this seriously and understands the importance of the integrity of voter registration data. As a Department, we are committed to getting this right.”

We also reached out to California Chief Information Officer Amy Tong, who was unable to join. Her communications deputy director Alice Scott-Rowe sent us this statement:

“Every large IT project has challenges that surface during development, and in this case, the California Department of Technology took immediate steps to address issues as they arose. The Department of Technology understands the importance of safeguarding voter registration data and building secure systems that can protect it.”

We also reached out to former DMV director Jean Shiomoto and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who were unable to join.


John Myers, Sacramento bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, where his recent piece is “California launched DMV voter registration system despite bugs and hackers”; he tweets @johnmyers