What do Charter Communications and the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners have in common? They both offer maddeningly inefficient, technologically backward search functions.
On April 3, 2012—election night for St. Louis municipalities and school districts—I had a couple of skins in the game, and I planned my evening around following the returns. My plan was to go to the source—the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners—where I figured I’d get the most up-to-date and accurate results as they were tabulated at commission headquarters. What I found there was a shockingly poor reporting system.
Rather than a searchable database, or even an Excel spreadsheet in, perhaps, PDF form, where one might search for the elective races one was most interested in, I found a list, which you can see here. It’s printed in a very antiquated typeface—I think it’s Courier—something we used to use on our IBM selectric typewriters in the 1980s. It’s just a list. No database. No search function at all. To find the race you want to know about, you have to scroll down through the alphabetical list—which, by the way, is “alphabetized” by municipality somewhat like this: “Alderman, Bel-Nor,” “City Council, Creve Coeur,” etc. And if you wanted an update on election night, the only way to get it was to refresh every few minutes and hope you hit the right moment, because no information as to the next update was made available on the site.
This frustrating system is very similar in its technological 1999-ishness to Charter Communications’ “On Demand” system, which also has no search function and forces you to scroll down through the alphabetical list of movie titles until you find one you might like. But don’t pause, because if you step away from the remote for more than a minute or two, Charter reverts back to the main menu, and your search must begin again from the top.
Why? With regard to Charter—which is a technology company—I have no freakin’ idea, except that installing a decent search system might cost them money and cut into the take-home pay of the top executive staff.
With regard to St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners, I can only speculate. Perhaps a continuously refreshing, online database of election returns is insecure. Maybe it could be corrupted by mischief-makers and hackers. So, perhaps, an old-fashioned, uneditable list is, in fact, better. [If that’s the case, it would be nice if the Board paid as much attention to possible vote-count corruption that could take place with its easily hackable DRE voting machines. But that’s another post.] In defense of the Board, I did check to see how results were being reported in Kansas City, and the system was alarmingly similar. Maybe this is a statewide policy?
It turns out that the best place to get election results on April 3 was KSDK-TV, which offered a much more user-friendly format—fed, of course, by information given to them by the Board of Election Commissioners. I just think there’s something awry when citizens have to rely on media to get basic information about our democracy [and what’s more basic than election results?] in a transparent and timely way.