Scott Gessler grilled at Capitol about immigrant letters, website glitches
At the Capitol yesterday, Secretary of State Scott Gessler had lots to discuss at a State Affairs briefing -- but only a few minutes into his presentation, he was interrupted by critical questions from lawmakers. The immediate criticisms, which were put on hold until after he finished his prepared remarks, set the tone for a contentious meeting -- kicking off what will also likely be a controversial legislative session for Gessler.
Mainly, the critical legislators wanted to know why Gessler had been so focused on finding illegally registered immigrants and if any voters were disenfranchised due to technical problems at his office.
Some of these concerns raised by the House and Senate legislators in attendance were discussed at length in our recent cover profile of Gessler, a Republican official who has gotten an unusual amount of attention in the chief election officer position.
His annual briefing, a prepared version of which is on view below, covered what Gessler argues are his biggest successes since he took office as the head of the State Department, which oversees elections and business and licensing. ("We work to serve the American Dream," Gessler said, in explaining his office's purview to the committee).
But an immediate grilling from several lawmakers interrupted his lengthy list of accomplishments, including improvements in his information technology division, increased security of his office's data, lowered business filing fees and cleaner and more accurate voter rolls.
Just after he touted the fact that the Secretary of State website last year had 9.7 million unique visitors last year, Senator Evie Hudak, a Democrat, asked the first question of the day.
"Secretary Gessler, you talked about your website. But it crashed a number of times, including the last day of registration," she said. "And as a result, about...800 voters who thought they were registered didn't get registered. What are you doing to solve those problems?"
Hudak, it seems, was combining two different problems in her question. A glitch with the Secretary of State's mobile-optimized website meant that for eleven days in September, anyone who registered through that option didn't actually have their registration recorded. There was close to 800 of them and the Secretary of State's office, which fixed the problem after the eleven-day period, had no way of identifying or contacting them. At the same time, the election website crashed on the final day of registration due to large volume of people visiting the site at the last-minute. In this case, individuals might have had trouble getting through (until his staff added additional servers), but there wouldn't have been confusion around whether their registrations were recorded or not, since the site just wasn't working at certain points.
Gessler responded, "The problems were already solved on those days," before explaining at length the two challenges.
"We did have two glitches, and I'll call them glitches, because when you look at it, [we had a great deal] of successes using online voter registration," he said, later adding, "The capabilities people had this year were far beyond what they ever had before."
He said, "We were pretty aggressively able to resolve those issues."
Senator Angela Giron, a Democrat and chair of the committee, continued questioning Gessler on the matter, saying, "Each one...of those, it's important that they were able to register. Were you able to track that and see if any of those people we lost were able to vote?"
Gessler explained that there was no way for his office to actually find those voters, since their registrations weren't recorded, but noted that there was an emergency rule in place such that anyone who may have been affected by the glitch could vote provisionally on Election Day -- if they did register during that timeframe on the mobile-optimized site and showed up to vote and weren't listed.
"I'm not sure I'm convinced," Giron said, noting that election judges at polling sites might not have let those individuals vote, even if they explained the situation.
"If they were able to read and if they read the instructions and applied to them, then there shouldn't have been a problem," Gessler responded.
"If the election judges let them," Giron said.
After another lawmaker asked him about his strained relationship with county clerks -- which the Secretary said was not accurate -- Gessler asked if he could go back to his presentation and then take questions afterward.
Giron said that would be fine.
Continue for more from Scott Gessler's visit to the Capitol yesterday.