Controversy Swirls Around Wisconsin’s Voter List Contract With Accenture

Posted: April 19, 2005
Updated: January 18, 2008

UPDATE: The state Elections Board announced December 26, 2007 that an agreement was reached ending the state's contract with Accenture to create a computerized statewide voter registration system. The Democracy Campaign fought the arrangement for three years, and that fight ended with Accenture being given its walking papers.

The State of Wisconsin entered into a contract on November 12, 2004 with the global outsourcing firm Accenture to develop a statewide voter registration list. Under the contract, Accenture was to be paid $13.9 million for computer software development and maintenance. Subsequent changes to the agreement boosted the figure to $14.1 million.

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s director and other citizens seeking cancellation of the contract on the grounds that state Elections Board director Kevin Kennedy lacked legal authority to sign the Accenture contract. The Elections Board did not vote to approve the contract before it was signed, and did not vote to authorize a Request for Proposals soliciting bids from private vendors.

Elections Board staff also withheld information from the public about the status of the contract when briefing board members. Accenture was chosen in mid-October and a letter of intent was issued on October 15, 2004 awarding the contract to the company. But a report presented to the board on October 20 said only that the procurement process was proceeding and that a final vendor had not yet been selected.

A circuit court judge ruled on June 2, 2005 that the Elections Board's director did not have the authority to enter into the agreement with Accenture, but nevertheless upheld the contract on the grounds that the board retroactively ratified the contract on January 27, 2005 - more than a month after the contract was legally challenged.

The Democracy Campaign also asked Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to investigate whether Wisconsin’s open government laws were violated in the awarding of the contract. A Justice Department investigation was launched and resulted in Accenture providing access to its proprietary software, ensuring that confidential voter information not be copied or sold, and surrendering control of the source code it will write to program computers used to registered voters. Under the original contract, this computer code was Accenture's private property and was not open to inspection by state officials.

Development of a statewide voter list is one of many changes required by the federal Help American Vote Act. Work on the voter list was supposed to be completed by January 1, 2006.

In addition to the $14.1 million the state has agreed to pay Accenture, millions more are being spent on other aspects of the voter registration project – including at least $4.1 million to another private firm, Deloitte Consulting, for project management and $10.2 million for state Elections Board staff oversight, hardware and data entry – for a total cost of at least $28.4 million. In contrast, Minnesota relied on state employees to do its statewide voter list and completed the work at a cost of $5.3 million.

The outsourcing of voter registration in Wisconsin is the offspring of a political promise Governor Jim Doyle made to eliminate 10,000 state jobs, thereby reducing the size of the state workforce to 1986 levels. Fulfilling that campaign promise has prompted the state to outsource government services to private companies, even when the cost of outsourcing is considerably greater for taxpayers.

One study showed that the cost of doing government work with outside contractors is 18 percent more expensive than having state employees do the work. In one instance, the state paid a private firm nearly $80 an hour to maintain a road sign inventory previously kept by a state employee making $11 an hour. The state gave the same company a $685,000 no-bid contract to build and maintain a web site about a Milwaukee-area highway construction project while several web experts said they could have created the site for half the cost or less but were never given the chance to bid for the work.

The selection of Accenture to develop Wisconsin ’s voter registration list is particularly controversial. The company had a hand in the notorious purge of suspected felons from Florida voter lists before the 2004 elections. More on Accenture’s role in the Florida felon purge.

Accenture was a division of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen known as Andersen Consulting before the Enron accounting scandal forced a name change. Accenture’s parent company is headquartered in Bermuda to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Wisconsin officials have bristled at the charge that Accenture is headquartered offshore for tax avoidance purposes, maintaining that it is an Illinois-based firm. This claim is undercut, ironically, by Accenture itself. A company representative defended its record of avoiding U.S. taxes by telling a Texas newspaper "Accenture is not and never has been a U.S.-based or U.S.-operated organization."

The company also has come under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the federal law banning bribery of foreign officials.

Accenture is no stranger to influence peddling in the U.S., either. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, company executives and Accenture’s political committees made donations of $726,105 to federal campaigns in the 2004 election cycle. Of that, $534,067 went to Republicans and $188,788 went to Democrats.

Links to more information about the Accenture voter list contract

Ding dong, the glitch is dead!
Big Money Blog
December 26, 2007

State voter system software can't do required checks
Wisconsin State Journal
November 26, 2007

Force Accenture to finish job
Capitol Times
August 21, 2007

Voter system contractor says state owes it millions
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 18, 2007

The Election's Board Rathole Strategy
Big Money Blog
February 8, 2007

Election fraud plan to miss fall vote
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 3, 2006

Voter list should be ready by September, state says
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 22, 2006

Delays plague state list of voters
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 23, 2006

Colorado scraps computer voter registration
Associated Press
November 30, 2005

Clean up voter mess (editorial)
Capital Times
September 28, 2005

Elections Board urged to cancel voter list contract
Capital Times
September 28, 2005

Voter registration system delayed
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
September 17, 2005

State spends millions on contractors
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 13, 2005

Voter registration project is flawed
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 30, 2005

State looking at $1.4 million more for voter list
Capital Times
July 20, 2005

Assorted Rolls: Statewide voter registration databases under HAVA
Electiononline.org
June 2005

State to put limits on voter list firm; Rules to be put in Accenture pact
Capital Times
June 7, 2005

Accenture voter ID list survives test; Judge rules contract is legal
Capital Times
June 3, 2005

State panel OKs plan for funding voter list; But Legislature committee limits ability to pay vendor hired to develop record
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 15, 2005

Critics say firm has state by neck on deal; Accenture would own voter database software
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 5, 2005

Foes put sights on voter list pact; Firm's work for others criticized
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 7, 2005

Accenture charge for voter list triple Minnesota’s cost
Capital Times
March 2, 2005

Accenture work behind schedule
Capital Times
March 2, 2005

Accenture pact’s OK ‘meaningless’
Capital Times
January 28, 2005

Accenture deal veteran asks ‘why?’
Rob Zaleski column, Capital Times
January 14, 2005

Elections Board gets scrutiny over pact
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
December 31, 2004

Elections Board voter-list deal draws lawsuit
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
December 24, 2004

Lawsuit targets voter list contract
Capital Times
December 23, 2004

200 protest Accenture’s voter contract
Capital Times
December 1, 2004

Voter list costs may be wildly inflated
Jim Koloen column, Wisconsin State Journal
November 30, 2004

Accenture pact a boneheaded move
Capital Times
November 30, 2004

State pact with Accenture draws fire
Isthmus

Isthmus Document Feed on Accenture