Just days before Tuesday’s deadline to register to vote in Georgia, all voter registration shut down for nearly the entire day Friday at every Department of Driver Services location in the state.
The department said its software operator, the global corporation IDEMIA, had taken full responsibility for the failure. David Connell, the chairman of the DDS’ oversight board, said he was confident in the vendor’s statement that the problem resulted from a database overload, not a cyber intrusion.
“It’s an issue we all wish wouldn’t have happened,” Connell said.
IDEMIA did not respond to a phone message left by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at its Virginia representative office.
During the outage, which was resolved by the close of Friday, the agency could not issue a driver’s license or renew a driver’s license, but it could reinstate a driver’s license.
Connell and a spokesperson for DDS said that to make up for the outage, more than 40 of its locations statewide would open Saturday and Monday — Columbus Day — when they usually would be closed. They will only be open until noon Saturday and 1 p.m. Monday. The locations are listed on the DDS website at https://dds.georgia.gov/more. Whether a location is open depended on whether the DDS could find enough staff able and willing to come in.
In general, the DDS is just one place to register; it provides voter registration as a courtesy since that’s where people are obtaining identification cards. The Secretary of State’s Office is in charge of voting statewide, and each county’s elections office is in charge of each county’s voting and elections.
But people who need a new driver’s license or state ID card in order to register to vote online still must go to the DDS. People without ID can register to vote on paper with only their Social Security number. They still will need ID for Election Day on Nov. 6.
People who already have an ID can register online at the Secretary of State’s Office website, or they can print out a registration form and mail it in. The office said it will accept registrations postmarked by Tuesday’s deadline.
Election bears down
The breakdown is a serious problem for the general election Nov. 6, said Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University.
“Undoubtedly there are a lot of people trying to register to vote right now,” Abramowitz said Friday afternoon. “The people who weren’t able to do it today might not be able to come back another day.”
The people most likely to be permanently affected by the outage, Abramowitz said, include would-be new voters without an ID, and those with sketchy access to transportation, the internet or stable time off work. And those, he said, were more likely to be African-American, lower income or young. They would skew Democratic.
Polling has shown Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, in a neck-and-neck race against Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp. It is Kemp’s office overseeing the election. His spokeswoman told the AJC on Friday that his office had researched the question of extending the registration deadline and Kemp did not have the authority. However, the governor might, she said, or someone could sue the state, as happened in 2016. Then, the ACLU sued over a related issue and a judge ordered the registration deadline extended.
It shouldn’t even be Kemp answering the question, Abramowitz said. “It’s another example of the kinds of problems you run into when you have the person overseeing an election running for governor,” he said, as opposed to having non-elected elections oversight or having an elections official running in an election step down first.
A spokesman for Kemp’s campaign did not respond to the comment.
How it crashed
Headlines, activists and concerned experts have focused immense scrutiny on Georgia’s voting machines and whether they are secure from hacking. Less in the spotlight have been the machines that create the voters to begin with.
Connell said system security was an important priority at the DDS, and every time there’s news of an intrusion elsewhere it’s brought up at a board meeting. He’s sure they’ve discussed the issue at least within the past six months.
“We’ve got some very smart hackers trying to get into our systems,” Connell said. “We have never had a breach and plan not to have one. It’s devastating when you have one.” The DDS system is separate from the Secretary of State’s Office.
John Sennot, a senior vice president for IDEMIA, said in a statement that “Georgia citizens can be assured that their personal data has not been compromised or otherwise put at risk as a result of this issue.”
The problem Friday, Connell said, resulted from a system set up about 10 years ago that had since taken in an enormous amount of identification registration data. A database file simply got full, he said, and the system crashed. Asked whether a hacker could have tricked the machine into thinking it was full, Connell said he was “100 percent” confident in the vendor’s assessment.
How the system could have been set up as capable of becoming full without remedy is another question.
“It’s not our responsibility to go test their database,” Connell said of the vendor, IDEMIA. “We’ve been assured by this quality vendor that this isn’t something they have expected to happen. And we didn’t either.”
Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.