It was a leisurely week in the land of IT-related snarls and snafus. We start off with the continuing saga of problems plaguing the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles modernization effort.
Kansas DMV System Slows New Voter Registration
In May 2012, the Kansas finally introduced a new US $40 million computer system to handle car title and registration processes at the Department of Motor Vehicles. But more than a year later, the system continues to cause problems for the state and its citizens.
Most visible have been the intolerable DMV office wait times, as the system has proved to be less than dependable. In fact, Kansas is still holding back $2 million of the $25 million contract with the system developer 3M until system reliability improves. That can't happen soon enough for those drivers using the Wichita and Andover DMV offices who are still experiencing three to five hour waits and recurring computer failures.
But now there's another problem: Kansas voters aren’t being correctly registered to vote .
Back in 2011, Kansas legislators were considering passing a law that would require new voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other documentation proving their citizenship when they registered to vote. According to a news story at the Lawrence Journal-World, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach assured the legislature "that a new computer system being installed by the Division of Motor Vehicles could seamlessly provide citizenship information to county election officials across the state.”
The law passed, but the legislature decided to delay its start date from 1 June 2012 to 1 January 2013 “to ensure the [DMV] computer system would be working properly,” the Journal-World wrote. (This was over Kobach’s strong objections—he wanted the documentation requirement in place before the elections last November).
Apparently, even that delay wasn’t long enough.
According to the newspaper, the DMV claims that it is sending the required proof of citizenship information to Kobach’s office, but most of the documentation doesn't seem to be finding its way back to county election officials. For example, the Journal-World says that county election officials in Douglas County report that some 80 percent of the voter registration forms it receives that were originally filed at the DMV are lacking the proper citizenship verification information. This compares to about 30 percent of all new voter registration forms filed (including those coming in from the DMV) since the law took effect in January.
Voter registration forms that don’t have the proper documentation are placed “in suspense” until the proper documentation is provided by the potential new voter. However, there is no requirement (or money budgeted) for Kansas county election officials to contact a potential voter about their missing information. So a new voter may well have provided the required information to the DMV, but still have a suspended registration.
Officials as of yet can't pinpoint whether these documents are lost due to human or technical error.
Kobach admits, according the Journal-World says, that “the DMV system isn’t working as intended but said citizenship documents were being forwarded by email,” which county election officials strongly dispute.
If something isn’t done soon to correct the problem, the paper says that “the ongoing issues leave the secretary of state vulnerable to allegations that the new requirement will suppress rather than encourage voter participation,” something that U.S. Supreme Court took a very dim view to recently.
The Kansas DMV may have more headaches in its future: the modernization of the driver's license process is supposed to go live later this year.
Richmond, Indiana Get Water Bill Surprise
Customers of the Richmond Sanitary District in Richmond, Indiana were probably a bit perplexed last week when they opened up their monthly water and sanitation bills to find that instead of their usual $40 to $50 charge, they were being billed for $25 000 or more.
According to the Palladium-Item, Sanitation District officials explained that, “a defective computer file from Indiana American Water Co. was sent to the district and forwarded to Richmond Power & Light, which does the billing for the district.” They claim to have caught the mistake before the bills were sent out, but admit that they must have missed an unknown number. At least 50 people have called District officials to angrily complain about the mistake.
District officials are expecting even more calls this week from those with automatic bill paying, if their bank accounts get massively overdrawn. Officials haven’t said whether they intend to pay for any bank charges that customers might incur because of District's billing mistake.
Tesco Has Yet Another Pricing Error
UK grocer Tesco, the third largest retailer in the world, continues to be the store that sharp-eyed shoppers love. According to a story last week Aol.UK, a pricing error at Tesco resulted in a box of Tic Tacs retailing for 1 p instead of the usual £1.25. Interestingly, the Tic Tacs weren’t part of a promotional sale, which has led to previous pricing errors, like when a Tesco software promotional pricing glitch allowed six bottles of wine normally costing £59.94 to be bought for £9.01 or when a Tesco beer promotion for £4 savings on two cases of beer instead caused the cases to ring up at £4 instead of £20. The latter caused a “beer stampede,” according to UK press reports.
Furthermore, the pricing error only applied to original flavor, orange, and lime Tic Tacs; spearmint and strawberry flavors continued to be charged at the full price.
Some Tesco cashiers told customers to use the self-checkout lines when making the discounted purchases so they wouldn't have to alert the store’s manager to the pricing error. The “Tic Tacs stampede” lasted about a day before the pricing error was finally corrected in the store’s computers.
Also of Interest…
- Thousands of University of Liverpool Students Sent Wrong Exam Results
- Millions of U.S. Direct Express Debit Cards Receive Deposits Late
- Ticketmaster Problems Hit Sale of Penn State Football Tickets
- Mobile Alabama Crime Statistics Skewed By Computer Issues
- Three-Mile Island $13 Million New Sirens Stay Silent During Test
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.