LA Sec of State website down on National Voter Registration Day (1 Viewer)

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TaylorB

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The website for Louisiana's Secretary of State -- headed by Republican Kyle Ardoin -- was down for "scheduled maintenance" yesterday until midnight. Here's what the site looked like:

1600898893303.png


Yesterday was National Voter Registration Day, a civic holiday observed since 2012. In the context of Ardoin's other efforts to keep people from casting ballots, the move has the hallmarks of voter suppression. Ardoin denied any political gamesmanship, calling the move "an unfortunate error":

This afternoon, I sent a public records request to Ardoin's office seeking any and all records pertaining to this "maintenance."

1600901249604.png

Ardoin's office generally has three days to respond, but it's likely they'll seek to delay compliance. This shouldn't have to be said, but it is not the job of the Secretary of State to ensure that people do not register to vote.
 
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LA - L.A.

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This afternoon, I sent a public records request to Ardoin's office seeking any and all records pertaining to this "maintenance."

1600901249604.png

Ardoin's office generally has three days to respond, but it's likely they'll seek to delay compliance. This shouldn't have to be said, but it is not the job of the Secretary of State to ensure that people do not register to vote.
I really appreciate you actively seeking an explanation. It's easy actions like this that we all need to do more of to hold our representatives accountable and take back our power over our government.

Thank you for your effort and your service.
 

SaulGoodmanEsq

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Ardoin is actually not such a bad dude. He was in favor of allowing for more exceptions for requesting an absentee ballot (i.e., Covid-related stuff) but the Republican controlled state legislature shut him down.
 
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TaylorB

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Ardoin is actually not such a bad dude. He was in favor of allowing for more exceptions for requesting an absentee ballot (i.e., Covid-related stuff) but the Republican controlled state legislature shut him down.
I didn't have a particularly negative impression of Ardoin prior to this last 12 months or so, but since then, he's been pretty partisan. At the end of 2019, for example, he campaigned for Trump and Trump-bootlicking-candidate-for-LA-governor Eddie Rispone in blatant violation of the law:


I have a *really* hard time, in light of his recent track record, believing there was anything coincidental about the SOS site being down on National Voter Registration Day.

This isn't rhetorical, as you may know more about Ardoin than me -- do you think I'm wrong about this being deliberate?
 

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I couldn't say. It wouldn't be wholly surprising but I think the impact is relatively insignificant so why would he risk making himself look bad over it? I don't really know if the fact that it was National Election Day would spur more people to register on that specific day. If the website outage was for a week or so, then I would be more skeptical.
 
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TaylorB

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Update to my public records request:

Outside counsel for the Secretary of State has responded to my request (translation - "we intend to kick this can as far down the road as you and/or a judge will let us get away with"):

1601046540442.png


My response:

1601045883895.png


Will continue to update on my progress.

The law allows some reasonable delay in gathering documents responsive to a public records request, and courts are reluctant to issue penalties and sanctions for delay beyond the typical three-day window unless it's egregious, but it shouldn't be overly burdensome to gather up documents pertaining to routine website maintenance. I smell a rat, and I want to let them know this is not going away.
 

LA - L.A.

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Update to my public records request:

Outside counsel for the Secretary of State has responded to my request (translation - "we intend to kick this can as far down the road as you and/or a judge will let us get away with"):

1601046540442.png


My response:

1601045883895.png


Will continue to update on my progress.

The law allows some reasonable delay in gathering documents responsive to a public records request, and courts are reluctant to issue penalties and sanctions for delay beyond the typical three-day window unless it's egregious, but it shouldn't be overly burdensome to gather up documents pertaining to routine website maintenance. I smell a rat, and I want to let them know this is not going away.
Thanks for the update.

Did you draft the request from scratch or did you use a template? Just curious, as I'm thinking that it might be effective to have websites that provide templates for people to use to make various requests of government officials and provide the key points about those officials legal obligations. I'm thinking websites similar to those that facilitate creating petitions.

The more we demystify and simplify the tools that are in place to hold our representatives accountable, the more people will actively use those tools to hold our representatives accountable.
 
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TaylorB

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Thanks for the update.

Did you draft the request from scratch or did you use a template? Just curious, as I'm thinking that it might be effective to have websites that provide templates for people to use to make various requests of government officials and provide the key points about those officials legal obligations. I'm thinking websites similar to those that facilitate creating petitions.

The more we demystify and simplify the tools that are in place to hold our representatives accountable, the more people will actively use those tools to hold our representatives accountable.
That's a good question. I drafted the request on my own, but I am pretty sure I borrowed some of it from a random one I found on CREW's website, which I'll link to:

For the past couple of months I have been compiling some of CREW's public records requests and FOIA lawsuits in a form file because I have vague ambitions to start something similar to CREW that's focused on Louisiana politics. My request in this instance was not as robust or airtight as I'd have liked because the SOS portal for public records requests had a 500 character limit, and I was working from home and didn't have the capability to fax or mail one on letterhead. I got another email from the Sec. of State's lawyer this PM giving me even more run-around, so I've got half a mind to go back to the drawing board and re-submit a new request that's more specific and harder for them to circumvent.

LA - I think that's a really useful idea about the website with simplified tools to hold officials accountable; the CREW website isn't exactly what you're looking for, but it's the most similar thing I've seen, and you can track their requests and lawsuits from start to finish. I wouldn't have time to spearhead a website like that on my own, but I'd be happy to collaborate or just contribute to something like that. Having litigated against big insurance companies who do nothing but hide the ball, I have some skills to contribute in wordsmithing document requests and generally pulling at threads until they unravel and reveal bad conduct. And certainly on a case-by-case basis I'd be willing to chip in and help FOIA-terrorize public officials whose behavior needs to be scrutinized. You'll likely find that the public records laws in many states are modeled after each other and therefore very similar. On one hand, if you don't have a lawyer licensed in that particular state that's ready to litigate it, there's only so much you can do; but on the other, most public records laws have penalty and attorney fee provisions for arbitrary non-compliance that might help incentivize lawyers to take a harder look at helping when it's warranted.

At a minimum, I'll keep posting my work product in this case on this board so that my own playbook isn't a mystery to anyone (and so that people can improve upon it).
 

LA - L.A.

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That's a good question. I drafted the request on my own, but I am pretty sure I borrowed some of it from a random one I found on CREW's website, which I'll link to:

For the past couple of months I have been compiling some of CREW's public records requests and FOIA lawsuits in a form file because I have vague ambitions to start something similar to CREW that's focused on Louisiana politics. My request in this instance was not as robust or airtight as I'd have liked because the SOS portal for public records requests had a 500 character limit, and I was working from home and didn't have the capability to fax or mail one on letterhead. I got another email from the Sec. of State's lawyer this PM giving me even more run-around, so I've got half a mind to go back to the drawing board and re-submit a new request that's more specific and harder for them to circumvent.

LA - I think that's a really useful idea about the website with simplified tools to hold officials accountable; the CREW website isn't exactly what you're looking for, but it's the most similar thing I've seen, and you can track their requests and lawsuits from start to finish. I wouldn't have time to spearhead a website like that on my own, but I'd be happy to collaborate or just contribute to something like that. Having litigated against big insurance companies who do nothing but hide the ball, I have some skills to contribute in wordsmithing document requests and generally pulling at threads until they unravel and reveal bad conduct. And certainly on a case-by-case basis I'd be willing to chip in and help FOIA-terrorize public officials whose behavior needs to be scrutinized. You'll likely find that the public records laws in many states are modeled after each other and therefore very similar. On one hand, if you don't have a lawyer licensed in that particular state that's ready to litigate it, there's only so much you can do; but on the other, most public records laws have penalty and attorney fee provisions for arbitrary non-compliance that might help incentivize lawyers to take a harder look at helping when it's warranted.

At a minimum, I'll keep posting my work product in this case on this board so that my own playbook isn't a mystery to anyone (and so that people can improve upon it).
Thanks for the reference to the CREW site. I have it bookmarked and will check it out.

Posting your efforts and work product informs everyone who reads it and I believe inspires some to take action themselves, so it's a positive contribution.

I've been thinking about several ways I could be more actively involved toward making a positive contribution. The thing I'm working out is how I can make the most impact with the spare time and energy that I have. Right now, I'm leaning toward putting my spare time and energy toward moving us to ranked choice elections as a nation.

Your idea for a Louisiana dedicated website is appealing and could be a model for other states. Do you know of any independent watchdog groups in Louisiana. If you do, I think they would be a good place to look for collaboration.
 

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This has nothing to do with the topic but it looks like they recently updated the absentee ballot request to include COVID-19 as a reason. It was removed after the July election and wasn’t there just a few days ago when I checked.
 

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This has nothing to do with the topic but it looks like they recently updated the absentee ballot request to include COVID-19 as a reason. It was removed after the July election and wasn’t there just a few days ago when I checked.

Probably because of the recent court ruling to reimplement the old voting plan from the first wave of the pandemic.

Guess they decided not to appeal.
 

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Probably because of the recent court ruling to reimplement the old voting plan from the first wave of the pandemic.

Guess they decided not to appeal.
Yep. Ardoin decided not to appeal which isn't too surprising as he was the one who implemented the July 'expansions' for absentee ballots. This is why I don't think the site being down was anything orchestrated. The 5th Circuit is overwhelmingly conservative and he probably would have been successful on an appeal.


I'm actually not a huge fan of mail-in voting. Not because I think Trump's claims of mass fraud have any merit, but there is just so much that can go wrong with error on either the voter's part (for example, the privacy envelopes in Pennsylvania) or government workers in the clerk's office making non-partisan mistakes/mishandling ballots. I had no idea that early in-person voting was open for a fairly expansive period (a week) and think that's great. I sort of wish more people -- who are at lower risk of dramatic Covid effects -- would opt to vote in-person. While the polls don't reflect actual votes, even assuming Biden is ahead by 3-5 points in the states where it counts, that so many of those pro-Biden votes are probably going to be via mail-in ballot has me concerned.
 
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Update from just a moment ago:

1601663272456.png


$.25 / page for records (even electronically?!) is *outrageous*. But I'm already pot-committed, and I don't have time at the moment to fight the costs, so I'm going to bite the bullet and pay for them. Of course, I'm super curious about the withheld records and redactions, but we'll see what they produce first. Will keep everyone posted 🤞
 
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TaylorB

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Update:
At the end of last week, the Secretary of State responded to my Public Records Request. Here's a link to the documents they produced:


I've been doing hurricane logistics in the interim and haven't had a chance to conduct a thorough review of the documents. I'm including some initial observations though.

Most of the communications appear to pertain to the SOS personnel scrambling to respond to media requests in the hours after the story broke on the night of 9/22. They landed on a strategy of touting the fact that over 90% of eligible voters are registered, and calling the scheduled maintenance an "unfortunate error." On p. 241 of the PDF, someone complains to the SOS of having convinced someone else to register to vote, only to have them run into site maintenance when they tried to register. There are tons of media requests, and a number of people expressing anger and frustration via the website portal.

Starting on p. 49 of the PDF, there's a discussion about an ERIN release -- Elections and Registration Information Network -- which appears to have been updated during the "scheduled maintenance" they were referring to.

On p. 64 of the PDF, there's an August 13 email from IT requesting to schedule an ERIN release to take place on September 8th. The SOS personnel pushed back on the IT people and suggested that it be moved to 9/22, at 8:00 PM, in order to give registrars more time to "work their queues." Notably, they were aware this would take the registration and other sites down for 3+ hours, and for some reason, a full month ahead of time, they moved it to National Voter Registration Day at 8:00 PM.

1602512861972.png


The changes to registration appear to have been relatively minor (see, e.g., p. 55 for list of ERIN updates allegedly performed on 9/22). I'm asking people familiar with IT to weigh in -- is there any conceivable reason this would have to be done in prime hours? Any reason they had to schedule this on a Tuesday PM (initially proposed Tuesday, 9/8, and moved by SOS personnel to Tuesday, 9/22)? Any reason the changes they did could've been done at lower traffic times? Do these site changes seem like they'd require all of the SOS portals to be taken down 3+ hours? Can anyone shed light on what she means by starting the "release at 8 pm to give the registrars more time to work their queues"? (Note the date -- this is a full 5 weeks before the site maintenance).

It's hard to tell if there's any "there" there in terms of deliberate voter suppression, as if that's the case, they've at least provided plausible deniability by actually appearing to have done site maintenance on the day in question. But this also shows that the 9/22 date wasn't just chosen at random by IT people, but rather was selected by people within the SOS office as an alternative to what IT had initially proposed for site maintenance. I've got more questions now than I started with, but it would help me to hear perspective from someone who understands what was actually being done to the site, and why it might've needed to be done on such an oddly specific time and date, happening to coincide with National Voter Registration Day while Trump is litigating in states around the country to ensure votes are suppressed.
 

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Update:
At the end of last week, the Secretary of State responded to my Public Records Request. Here's a link to the documents they produced:


I've been doing hurricane logistics in the interim and haven't had a chance to conduct a thorough review of the documents. I'm including some initial observations though.

Most of the communications appear to pertain to the SOS personnel scrambling to respond to media requests in the hours after the story broke on the night of 9/22. They landed on a strategy of touting the fact that over 90% of eligible voters are registered, and calling the scheduled maintenance an "unfortunate error." On p. 241 of the PDF, someone complains to the SOS of having convinced someone else to register to vote, only to have them run into site maintenance when they tried to register. There are tons of media requests, and a number of people expressing anger and frustration via the website portal.

Starting on p. 49 of the PDF, there's a discussion about an ERIN release -- Elections and Registration Information Network -- which appears to have been updated during the "scheduled maintenance" they were referring to.

On p. 64 of the PDF, there's an August 13 email from IT requesting to schedule an ERIN release to take place on September 8th. The SOS personnel pushed back on the IT people and suggested that it be moved to 9/22, at 8:00 PM, in order to give registrars more time to "work their queues." Notably, they were aware this would take the registration and other sites down for 3+ hours, and for some reason, a full month ahead of time, they moved it to National Voter Registration Day at 8:00 PM.

1602512861972.png


The changes to registration appear to have been relatively minor (see, e.g., p. 55 for list of ERIN updates allegedly performed on 9/22). I'm asking people familiar with IT to weigh in -- is there any conceivable reason this would have to be done in prime hours? Any reason they had to schedule this on a Tuesday PM (initially proposed Tuesday, 9/8, and moved by SOS personnel to Tuesday, 9/22)? Any reason the changes they did could've been done at lower traffic times? Do these site changes seem like they'd require all of the SOS portals to be taken down 3+ hours? Can anyone shed light on what she means by starting the "release at 8 pm to give the registrars more time to work their queues"? (Note the date -- this is a full 5 weeks before the site maintenance).

It's hard to tell if there's any "there" there in terms of deliberate voter suppression, as if that's the case, they've at least provided plausible deniability by actually appearing to have done site maintenance on the day in question. But this also shows that the 9/22 date wasn't just chosen at random by IT people, but rather was selected by people within the SOS office as an alternative to what IT had initially proposed for site maintenance. I've got more questions now than I started with, but it would help me to hear perspective from someone who understands what was actually being done to the site, and why it might've needed to be done on such an oddly specific time and date, happening to coincide with National Voter Registration Day while Trump is litigating in states around the country to ensure votes are suppressed.
I'll try and look at the docs if I get a chance, but as an IT person, it wouldn't have to be done in prime hours, but it's not unusual for organisations to schedule updates for Tuesdays, particularly if they're on the smaller scale of things with limited and/or key staff. It's basically the same reason why updates don't tend to be scheduled for Fridays, to maximise staff availability following the update. The logic with Tuesday is it gives Monday for preparation, and then the rest of the week for addressing any issues that arise.

But for user-facing services, you'd typically want to do the update out-of-hours. And you definitely wouldn't want to do it during a known point for peak access, unless the update was essential (e.g. urgent security fixes).
 
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I'll try and look at the docs if I get a chance, but as an IT person, it wouldn't have to be done in prime hours, but it's not unusual for organisations to schedule updates for Tuedays, particularly if they're on the smaller scale of things with limited and/or key staff. It's basically the same reason why updates don't tend to be scheduled for Fridays, to maximise staff availability following the update. The logic with Tuesday is it gives Monday for preparation, and then the rest of the week for addressing any issues that arise.

But for user-facing services, you'd typically want to do the update out-of-hours. And you definitely wouldn't want to do it during a known point for peak access, unless the update was essential (e.g. urgent security fixes).

Exactly. Typically, when we take our network down for whatever reason, unless it's an emergency, it's done overnight and typically Thursday and the weekend for similar reason as Rob noted.
 

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Fundamentally the question is this.. was the date chosen with the knowledge that it was voter registration day, or was it chosen in ignorance?
 

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OK, I've had a quick scan through, and I can't add much. Their Director of Special Projects wrote an email post-update claiming it was "required to ensure our continued cybersecurity posture and to prepare for the heavy traffic we expect between now and Election Day", but that's the only direct mention of security.

The update notes in the release aren't complete; it refers to the build notes being found elsewhere and the items listed are 'additional changes that may impact your division'. Of those, one is a security feature (multi-factor authentication on the Vote Import site) as opposed to an urgent fix, and the performance update seems to be a change to 'make the process of locking Commissioner files more efficient', where it does note that there were 'some reports of this operation taking an unusual amount of time when performed on election night.' But it's not impossible that there were other bug fixes or security vulnerabilities being patched that aren't listed in the 'additional changes'.

It is plausible that the updates could take three hours and require front-ends to be down; if, for example, the changes requires updates to a large database on the backend, and for that database to be offline while the operations are performed, that can take quite a while. I don't know about ERIN specifically of course. This - https://gcrincorporated.com/elections-registration-information-network-erin/ - suggests it's '24/7/365' for 'availability and reliability', but if that's applicable, it was also built on .NET and SQL Server in 2006, so it may be creaking a bit after fourteen years of patches, updates, and extra originally unanticipated features being shoehorned in there. So regardless of the '24/7/365' claim there, I couldn't say that the downtime in itself is inherently implausible.

I don't know for sure what "starting the release at 8 pm to give the registrars more time to work their queues" means, but if the system going offline prevents registrar data entry, I'd hazard a guess it's just referring to pushing the release a couple of hours past the end of the working day to try to ensure they've all finished before the update.

Overall, it's what's not there that stands out; there's not a lot of internal discussion at all. The key part of determining the date for the update is just referred to, "as we discussed this morning," so all that tells us is that (at least) the IT Deputy Director and the Commissioner of Elections discussed it. The implication is that the latter requested the move, since that email chain has her being concerned about the original. There's also an email from her after the downtime, stating, "I am going to draft a plan for ERIN updates to try and help us prevent this in the future." And maybe the plan says, "Everyone, mark National Voter Registration Day in your calendars." But without more insight into how that process ran this time, I don't think it's going to be possible to determine whether it's, "None of us realised what day it was," or, "Some of us didn't realise what day it was, and some of us are just pretending we didn't."

And the only other thing I'd note is they've tried to redact out the ERIN Build number wherever it appears for some reason, but they missed one in the subject of an embedded forwarded email. Oops. Not that I can see why that'd be significant, but presumably someone thinks it might be if they were redacting it.
 

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