Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Nobody Knows Nothing.

About three weeks ago, I thought I had discovered that the person I believed was my state representative was not, in fact, my state representative. Then I found out my discovery was wrong. He is my representative after all.

The bad information was provided by the Illinois General Assembly (IGA) itself, specifically the "legislator lookup" feature of their web site.

You've seen this sort of thing. You enter your address--your zip+four is sufficient--and it tells you who your elected officials are and what districts they represent. I assumed everybody who offers this sort of service (the U.S. Congress web site has one too, and so do a lot of political advocacy groups) is using the same database, compiled from Boards of Elections around the country. Apparently, where a given address falls in the myriad of different, overlapping jurisdictions is public information, available to anyone. So it makes sense that there would be one database for this and everyone would use it.

That is, after all, how office-seekers know who to send their fliers to, not to mention also capturing your phone number for the robo-dialer. (Government office-seekers are exempt from the Do-Not-Call list.) Obviously, they say "give me all of the voters in such-and-such a district." All of the mailings I got were addressed to "Charles Cowdery or Current Resident." The address is the thing.

So how did the IGA get it wrong? And how do I know they got it wrong?

The first question I can't answer, although I have told them and asked for an explanation. The second question I can answer. I voted on Tuesday and the information on my ballot was different from what the IGA told me. Let it be said that I know I'm on the border of a couple of districts, but that shouldn't matter since it's based on the exact address. Fearing that maybe it was something with the zip+four I tried again with the full address. Same wrong result.

"Is there a higher authority?" I asked myself. For me, the source of the information is the Chicago Board of Elections, so I tried their web site. Sure enough, their information was different, and consistent with what my actual ballot showed me on Tuesday.

My best guess is that whoever is running the service for the IGA is working from an out-of-date database, which seems crazy but it wouldn't be even close to the most incompetent thing the IGA has done.

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