Opinion: Voters register

POSTED: 09/5/14 2:02 PM

The last word has not been said yet about the voters register. That people did not receive their voting cards – a much-heard complaint –seems to be for a large party due to inaccuracies in the systems, or in the way these systems are understood and handled.

Though this may sound like a boring topic, it certainly is one with dire consequences for some people. It is all nice and dandy to tell voters that they can go to the Census Office to claim their voting card if they have not received it eight days before the elections, but who wants to stand in line for hours just for the pleasure of voting a guy into a $125,000 job? Quite some voters must have said no thank you to that idea. If this group represents only 2 percent of the voters, we approximately 21,500 eligible voters, we are talking about 430 voters. Just ask Maria Buncamper-Molanus how important this is.

A citizens who shared his concerns with us, showed us a copy of his voting card as well as a copy of his registration at the Census Office. They both contain data like last name, first name, date of birth, place of birth and address.

Now we have to assume that the voters register takes its data from the civil registry. Think about this as two electronic address books – and they’re huge, because they contain hundreds upon hundreds of names.

Anyone who has ever attempted to transfer the content of one address book on his computer to another one will have encountered this problem: if the fields in the two address books don’t match, the transfer of data is going to be a huge mess.

Every field in an address record has a specific purpose, like last name, first name, date of birth, and so on. When this information is successfully transferred from one address book to the next one, the information will be identical. If we’re dealing with, say, Peter Harrison, born 27-09-1983 in New York, this is how the information would appear;

Name   : Harrison

First     : Peter

D.O.B.            : 27-09-1983

P.O.B. : New York

Remarkably, this is not how it works with the transfer of information from the civil registry to the voters register. We hit upon a difference that opens the door to a truckload of scenarios, and they’re all bad.

The excerpt from the civil registry we saw, records the date of birth in this format: 25 April 1950.

On the voting card however, the format for this date suddenly becomes 25-04-1950.

Then there is the address. Simple addresses consist of a street name and a house number, but not all addresses are that simple. Some people live in apartment buildings, where the building has a house number and the tenant uses this number plus his apartment number to pinpoint his physical address.

The excerpt of the civil registry we saw lists a complete address: street name – house number – apartment number. But the voting card only lists street number and house number. This is why the mailman did not know to which letterbox he had to deliver the voting card.

The cause of this discrepancy is interesting, because it is so easy to repair – and four years from now there will be elections again.

Suppose that the “address book” at the civil registry has separate fields for street name, house number and apartment number, while the address book for the voters registry only has fields for street name and house number.

If this is true, the apartment numbers will not transfer to the voters register. This is an excellent way for voting cards to get lost and a good reason for voters going crazy because they have to spend hours waiting in line at the Census Office to claim their voting card. If there was just one among them this year who gave up on those lines, did not collect a voting card and therefore did not vote, while he otherwise would have voted for Maria Buncamper-Molanus ….. See how a small error has potentially big consequences?

We have four years to examine the system that generates the voting register. Four years to figure out whether there is indeed a little bleep that makes it near impossible to deliver voting cards to the correct address. It is not like St. Maarten to grab the bull by the horns and solve this issue, say, next week. Fine, but in that case, don’t complain in 2018 when again truckloads of voting cards end up on the wrong address.

To illustrate the importance of the fields in address records, we refer her to an unfortunate event that took place years ago with a customer information system. The system fed from data traveling sales representatives sent to their main office. One frustrated sales rep entered the term ”asshole” (we’re not making this up) in the field designed for the client’s name. When the company sent an email to its customer base – merging a letter with the addresses in its customer information system, the client received a letter that started with “Dear Asshole.”

This makes it easy to understand that protecting the integrity of a database also requires the implementation of safety valves.

 

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