I am not a lawyer, and so when I looked at the competing letters from the Florida Department of State and the Federal Department of Justice about the voter purge, I thought that, well, it doesn’t look like the law is on the side of Florida — but since our legal code is written in lawyerese and not plain English, I couldn’t be sure what the definition of “is” is in this case.
However, I am a computer systems architect. I work with the largest of corporations on issues of managing their customer data, and the problem of reconciling two lists of customers is a frequent challenge my customers have.
And that is exactly the same problem Rick Scott wants to solve: he wants to match up his list of Florida voters with the list of aliens in the Department of Homeland Security’s SAVE database. Matches would theoretically allow him to identify non-citizens who are registered to vote. Rick Scott points out, correctly as far as I can tell (again, I am not a lawyer), that the law permits Florida to gain access to the database for any lawful purpose. And then he chides the DHS for not fulfilling what he perceives to be their obligations under law.
But the interesting thing is that the response from the DOJ speaks not just of legal issues, but of technical issues. And on that subject, I am qualified to offer an opinion. So here it is:
The problem, and Rick Scott knows this, is that the SAVE database does not have the technical ability to match its records with a list of registered voters. It was not designed with that purpose in mind. The two systems — the list of registered voters and SAVE — are not compatible. SAVE is technically incapable of doing what they need in order to “scrub” a voter list.
The DOJ points this out very clearly in the response they sent to the Florida DOS. One paragraph lays out the situation clearly:
The highlighting is mine. The full letter is here.
What this means is that the SAVE database is designed to validate immigration documents a governmental agency has collected. It is not designed to validate people. If Florida has received a document that purports to prove a voter is a naturalized US citizen, this database will validate that it is true and current. But unless and until the state of Florida collects proof of citizenship from every voter when they register, the database is useless to the state to help maintain the general voter rolls. The database does not, as the paragraph clearly explains, allow them to send in a list of names and birth dates and get information back. It’s just not designed to do that.
Could the system be modified to do that? I don’t know. But I know it would be expensive if it is possible — anytime you modify a system of record it is expensive. And this is the government, which means it’s $100 hammer expensive. Congress would have to fund the change. There’s probably zero chance of that funding happening any time soon, and if the money was found, there’s no chance a new version of the system would be ready for months. Many, many months.
Rick Scott knows that there is no there there. He should have known it in October, when the DHS first told him it was not technically feasible. If he asked a state IT person to analyze the situation, they would have told Scott there is no API (Application Programming Interface) for what he wants to do. Assuming Scott ignored the technical issues (willfully or unintentionally, you decide) until now, the the DOJ’s most recent response makes it obvious that the issue is moot.
If there’s any questions or anything that’s unclear, just ask me. Engineers love to explain technical concepts (we’re also a cure for insomnia)!