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What Else Is In Scott's Head?

The blog site for writer Scott C. Smith. Some observations on the world we live in and life in general. And maybe some politics.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

ChoicePoint: Excellence in Inaccuracies

If you've read Greg Palast's book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, you'll be familiar with the company ChoicePoint. They were the database company contracted by the state of Florida for the 2000 presidential election to provide county election officials with "scrub lists," a database of names to remove from Florida's voting records. For the detailed reporting by Palast, you can read it in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy or at Greg's web site.

Here's a brief overview: the database of names provided by Choicepoint had many glaring errors, so voters who should have been eligible to vote were denied that right. For instance, the database would have flagged a John H. Smith as ineligible to vote, but would have matched that name with the wrong person, such as John H. Smith, Jr. These records were mainly the names of convicted felons who should have had their right to vote restored in Florida. Palast's investigation showed thousands of irregularities in this database, meaning Al Gore could have taken Florida had the state received an accurate scrub list from ChoicePoint.

Sure, data collection can be time consuming and not always 100% accurate, but remember, companies and governments spend thousands (or hundreds of thousands, or millions) of dollars for ChoicePoint data services. Such as the contract between ChoicePoint and the state of Florida: a $4 million contract in 1998 for the voter scrub lists. If you lived in Florida, that was $4 million of your dollars spent for data that, by the 2000 election, had resulted in thousands of voters not being able to vote. Quick: do you suppose the voters in the database by mistake were historically Democratic voters, or Republican?

Give yourself a trip to Orlando if you guessed "Democrat."

As if the Florida fiasco wasn't enough, MSNBC reported on Feb. 14 that criminals had obtained confidential data that affected upwards of 150,000 individuals.

And now, a new report from MSNBC: consumers discovering that their information in the ChoicePoint data records was not always accurate. Or, in some cases, completely wrong.

Now, this may not be an issue as fascinating as the Michael Jackson trial, but it is troubling to say the least. You would have thought Palast's original reporting would have attracted the attention of the so-called liberal media; after all, it showed how thousands of potential Al Gore voters had been denied the right to vote based on data provided to Florida by ChoicePoint. Funny how the "liberal" media didn't jump on that story. With MSNBC's report, we have further proof that the data collected and distributed by ChoicePoint is potentially tainted.

Which further begs the question: which state will obtain voter purge records from ChoicePoint to be used in the 2008 presidential election?

It could be your state. Or mine.

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