Want to Vote, O'Connor? Think Again

Apostrophes, hyphens, and spaces in names confuse computers
By Laila Weir,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2008 4:00 PM CST
Want to Vote, O'Connor? Think Again
A young voter hands over his identification as he registers to vote at the Chicago Board of Elections Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008. In the 2004 Michigan caucus, thousands of votes weren't counted because they were cast by people with apostrophes or hyphens in their last names. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)   (Associated Press)

The Information Age has been bad news for O'Connors, D'Angelos, Al-Husseins, and Van Kemps everywhere. Apostrophes in Irish, French, Italian, and African last names; hyphens in Arab names; and spaces in Dutch ones cause their owners endless headaches when computer systems reject or mis-record them, reports the AP, blocking them from voting, booking flights, and taking college exams.

Thousands of votes weren’t counted in the 2004 Michigan caucus because of computer problems with voters’ names. Such glitches happen either because the system filters out strange-looking names or because punctuation is mistaken for computer code once the name is stored. Some people are giving in and changing their surnames’ traditional spelling—at least when dealing with technology. (Read more computer programming stories.)

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