Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sloppy Coding Derails Deval.com

I should have seen this coming.

As a town coordinator for the Deval Patrick campaign, I was a heavy user of their online Community tool during the campaign. When the Patrick Committee announced that they were inviting everyone to use a new version of the tool, I thought it was admirable. It really makes organizing that much easier, and I credit it in no small part to Deval Patrick's victory in November. I was a little nervous, though, because I had been to several training sessions where people were queasy with the amount of information available at the click of a button. No problem, they said, because unless you were given permission by a higher-up, you couldn't see much other than what you yourself entered in. Fair enough. I logged into the new version of the tool over the weekend and found that you could not do a lot of the searching that made the original version so useful, but I was happy that they had locked down that aspect of the tool for the wider audience.

Except they forgot one thing -- the login. Many excellent coders have fallen victim to the login screen, so this is not a judgement on the developers who have been doing great work from day one. Usually, however, a login screen is slapped on at the last minute and given much less thought than the meat of a program and it's a trap I've fallen into myself as a programmer. Since my login account was an artifact from the previous system -- and I assume the people who beta-tested the new site were in the same boat -- I never played around with the login screen and did not realize that it now acted as a search of the voter rolls, the same search function that left a bad taste in so many peoples mouths. This could not have been the developers' intent since, after all, they locked down the search after one was successfully logged in.

Now, it's true that this is public information, available at any town clerk. Frankly, I believe that the voter rolls should be available online, with an option to opt-out. Still, devalpatrick.com is not the appropriate place for this information to live. It seems to me that there's no longer any reason for the voter rolls to drive logins on that site, and they should be decoupled. They should admit that this is a bug, and remove the search function as soon as they are able.