A State Without Useful Computer Networks?

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A Los Angeles Times story this weekend on the state's inability to come up with a workable system for on-line voter registration included the following chilling paragraph:

California is under a federal mandate to bring its registration system up to date to prevent fraud and give residents easy access to the political process, according to Bowen, who took office in January 2007. And the federal government is paying for the modernization. But online registration is not technically feasible, [California Secretary of State Debra] Bowen said, until the rest of the voter-registration system is updated. "The system we are using … is bubble-gum and baling wire. It is not sufficiently robust or sophisticated to allow us to do anything close to online registration," Bowen said.

OK, let me get this straight. California is required to have an up-to-date voter registration. It has a very responsible and competent public official, Debra Bowen, working on the issue. And there's federal funding.

But the underlying computer systems in the state aren't strong enough to support on-line voter registration. Maddening.

This seems to be a problem throughout state government. Controller John Chiang says the state's payroll computers are so backward that he can't make adjustments to state employees' paychecks, even when he's required by law.

We all know that the state is short billions of dollars. But getting the computers right is a problem that can be solved with spending that is the millions, not billions. The establishment of a robust technology infrastructure that connects the entire state government -- and local governments -- needs to be an operational priority of the governor and every state executive official, with full support of the legislature.

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