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Election officials begin $20-29M project to replace Virginia’s voter system

Voters at a polling station in Buckingham County, Va., November 3, 2020.
Voters at a polling station in Buckingham County, Va., November 3, 2020.(Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)
Published: May. 31, 2021 at 7:28 AM EDT
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For years, local officials have been complaining that Virginia’s all-encompassing election software — which powers everything from voter registration to absentee ballots to list maintenance to the transmission of results — is slow and hard to use.

2018 report from state auditors verified those frustrations, concluding the Virginia Election and Registration Information System, or VERIS was “not sufficiently functional or reliable.”

Election administrators are planning to fix that by replacing the IT system, a project estimated to cost between $20 million and $29 million.

Though voters may not notice a major change, officials said, the workers assisting them will hopefully have a much smoother time calling up information in the new system and making changes to a voter’s status.

“From an administrative point of view, it’s going to be a huge change. And a positive one,” said elections Commissioner Chris Piper. “If we can have a better system for them to maneuver through, it will ensure that voters have a safe and secure experience when they go to cast their ballot.”

The state recently solicited bids from companies interested in providing a replacement IT system and expects to award the contract in the fall. The new system and VERIS are expected to run “concurrently” for the 2022 elections, Piper said, with the new system going fully operational in 2023.

Though long planned, the VERIS replacement comes as election administration remains in the political spotlight. Republican candidate for governor Glenn Youngkin has made “election integrity” one of his top campaign talking points, an emphasis Democrats have criticized as lending credence to baseless theories about election fraud in Virginia and beyond.

Virginia scrapped the last of its touchscreen voting machines in 2017 in response to hacking concerns, moving to paper ballots fed into readers that aren’t connected to the internet.

There was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 presidential election in Virginia, and a post-election statistical audit validated President Joe Biden’s victory in the state with more than 99 percent certainty.

The only major technical hiccup came about a month before the election, when a severed cable in Chesterfield County knocked out the state government’s entire IT infrastructure, including VERIS. The outage occurred on the final day for Virginians to register to vote in the presidential election, a problem significant enough a judge ordered the state to reopen registration for another 48 hours.

While the cable issue was unrelated to the inner workings of VERIS itself, it underscored the damage IT spottiness can do to core government functions.

Though Democrats have used their legislative majorities to usher in sweeping election policy changes, there hasn’t been an equivalent focus on the technical side.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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