Documenting "Regee" Registration and Elections software
 
Chapter 1
Information for Registration and Elections

Well now you’ve done it. You are in a position with the Pima County Recorder’s Office where you’re going to have to use that strange-looking TV-typewriter, the big, bad computer box.

If you’re comfortable around computers, forgive us while we reassure the computer-phobic among you that this really is a painless sort of exercise that helps them do their jobs.

Take heart, cyber-scardeycats. You are working with some real human beings—and some rare characters—here in the Recorder’s Office. You are also working with the voters, the taxpayers, the citizens of Pima County, because we are here to serve them. They ask us for information. We turn to the computers to give them answers.

There’s good news and bad news about that.

The bad news is that you have to tell the computer exactly what you want, because it isn’t smart enough to figure out what it is you mean. Like it or not, you’re going to have to adapt to working with the machine.

Here’s the good news: this book shows you how.

Much of the time you should probably have this book open while you try what we’re talking about. Once you get started using the computer, it will all start to make sense. Why, before you know it you could become one of those people who used to hate computers—until you found out that they really do help you work.

You see, once you get past the fear of the unknown machine, the sooner it can become your friend and ally.

In other words, relax. This isn’t going to hurt a bit.

Your Mission

It’s easy to think it’s just a job. You have tasks to complete, hours you work and you have a boss.

But in the big picture, you serve democracy.

You are a part of the organization that enables the people of Pima County to elect your boss, the County Recorder, the County Supervisors, the Governor and the President.

You enable the people of Arizona to propose laws and recall scoundrels from public office.

We fought world wars to make the world safe for democracy. In emerging nations and among oppressed people, the people cry out for democracy.

The machinery of democracy is lists. Lists of voters, lists of petitions, people and propositions, all which take hard work—and smart work—to manage and make the information available to the voters.

Now of all the things computers do, managing lists is one of the things they do best. So in a modern government office we put computer at your desk to put the machinery of democracy at your fingertips.

Of course, that’s where you come in. You take those phone calls. You answer the voters’ questions. You look up the information on the computer.

As a part of the County Recorder’s office, you serve the people of Pima County. Your most vital tools is a helpful attitude. After that, your next most important tool is that computer on your desk, connected to the bigger computers where we store the vital records of Pima County’s registered voters.

Information at your fingertips

The slick Registration and Election program we run here in Pima County didn’t just fall from the sky. After years of trying and failing to run commercial software, the County Recorder got lucky.
A young Australian programmer-analyst named Paul Barber came along. He single-handedly designed, built and refined a system that maintains 69 different lists. Information on these lists are interrelated in a highly complex web of data that magically becomes just what you wanted to know on the screen right in front of you.

It’s so user-friendly and user-smart, in fact, that we’ve given it a friendly name: Say hello to Regee, the Registration and Election system designed by and for Pima County, Arizona.

Vast stores of data in the back room

Let’s give you an idea of the vast amount of information you have to deal with. At this writing, Pima County is approaching 500,000 registered voters. For each of those voters Arizona law requires full names, a residential addresses, dates of birth political party preference and voter ID numbers.

We add mailing addresses, places of birth, parents’ names and Social Security numbers as identifiers. Add the history of registration changes and in which elections each voter participated. Pile all that on top of geocoding that determines the jurisdictions in which each voter lives and the polling places where that person participates.

Then there’s absentee voting and petitions for initiatives, referenda, nominating and recalling candidates.

We store not just nice, compact data, but also pictures of voter affidavits and signatures to verify identity.

All the data in stored in the computer room in the corner of the office on some sophisticated equipment. It’s there to feed you the facts you need at a moment’s notice.

Pushing Participation on Reluctant Citizens

Here in the United States where large-scale democracy was born, voter participation has been steadily declining in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

What happened? Why has voter turnout tumbled over several decades? Politicians and pundits are never short on theories as to the reason why.

There’s the Government as Bad Guy theory. After the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Vietnam war and Watergate, people are skeptical of government. So in the movies, on TV, in the papers, government is seen as a sinister force with hidden agendas galore.

There’s the Nobody Deserves my Vote theory. The press exposes the bad news about politicians. And those same politicians get elected by telling us how wicked their opponent is. Then everybody asks why politicians are held in the same contempt as used car salespeople in loud plaid sportcoats.

And there’s the Why Bother, I Make No Difference theory, a self-fulfilling approach for people willing to rationalize their way out of their precious rights that America established in 1789 and has been fighting for ever since.

Against this tidal wave of contempt for the process, consider yourself a defender of democracy. The NVRA was adopted to slow this avalanche of public distrust. It’s up to you to reinvigorate American democracy by taking the NVRA to heart and registering voters.

Who Makes the Rules

The County Recorder’s office is a bureaucracy, run by the County Recorder who is elected by the people. But that’s only the beginning.

While the Recorder is elected, the person holding the office is still responsible to the Pima County bureaucracy, of which this office is a part, all run by the County Board of Supervisors, which calls elections and sets county policy.

The state

County government gets its authority from the State of Arizona. Our ground rules come from Arizona Revised Statutes Title 16 dealing with voting and elections, and ARS Title 19 dealing with voter initiatives and referenda. In addition, all County Recorders report to the Arizona Secretary of State, who provides registration and election training for workers around the state.

All those state laws have many provisions that say "The County Recorder shall. . ." Any time you see that phrase, it can refer to the recorder personally, or an employee acting on the Recorder’s behalf. So when the laws say what the Recorder is supposed to do, remember that this means you.

The feds

The United States government got into the act in 1993 when voter participation in elections was dropping. Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act, which took effect on January 1, 1995. You’ll hear this referred to in the office as the NVRA. From now on, you can nod with sage wisdom when someone refers to the NVRA and know what they’re talking about.
Known around the country as the "motor voter" law, the NVRA was designed to make voting laws uniform throughout the country. The law established voter registration sites at Motor Vehicle Divisions throughout the country, hence the "motor voter" nickname.

The law established that registration offices like ours were to serve the public, and not do what is simply convenient for the bureaucracy. So we have to reach out to voters to encourage registration. We have to make sure people who change address in this mobile nation of ours are not denied the right to vote just because they move.

The NVRA set procedures for updating registration rolls through post office mailings, and prohibited us from dropping voters just because they have failed to vote.

The NVRA also extended the use of absentee voting to an "early voting" system for more people to cast ballots without having to personally make that trip to the polling place on election day. That includes "satellite voting" at public places throughout them county.

Again, the NVRA mandated that it is we who must serve the public convenience so that it is our responsibility to encourage a citizen at a new address to re-register, not the citizen’s duty to notify us.

Next Up

First we’ve reassured you. Then we frightened you. Now that you’re thoroughly confused, let’s leap joyfully into the next chapter and get into Regee, where we’ll register a new voter.

Onward into the fog.


Two full volumes of documentation, one for users, the other for administrators, assembled from Joe Gold's extensive interviews with the software author, system administrator, office manager, staff users.