For quite some time now, if you were a reporter or opposition researcher or political consultant and you wanted to dig up some dirt on a political candidate in Florida you would spend at least some time on the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections website. On that website was an application that I have always referred to as "Dodo", because its URL was doedoe.dos.state.fl.us and thanks to the miracle of modern browsers, typing "Dodo" into the address bar would usually get me there sooner or later. Dodo was the place to go to lookup campaign contribution records for both candidates and political committees (of which the most commonly known is a PAC) registered in the State of Florida.
So you can imagine my surprise when, just for kicks, I decided to pay Dodo a visit and found this:
Maybe I made a mistake. I looked up one of the bookmarks I had for specific search applications within Dodo:
Can I just take a moment to point out that PE file CGI's are lame? Look, I know ... Windows, you have some ridiculous legacy thing, I get it, but when people wonder why our list of most innovative technology includes shrinking email to 140 characters and making it public instead of flying cars this is why.
Non-stupid web applications outside of the stupid cgi-bin directory are also impacted.
Readers, I started to become concerned. Had someone broken into the Department of State and stolen this one 10+ year old server hosting information that is exclusively in the public domain (dos and most everything else didn't make sense because non-election applications for the DoS work fine)? Was this the work of some dastardly villain: Special Interest Man or worse yet the Koch Brothers? Had someone from outside the network defaced the site or, more likely, someone within the network simply broke it?
It took me a while to come around to the realization that the Department of State had just turned the website off. Not very long. Maybe like two minutes (they were a tense two minutes). The screens above are what happen when you stop a site in IIS7, obviously an admin had stopped the site. But why?
Can you read that fine print down there? Of course you can't. You can't read it because I had to zoom out to 50% of the normal size of this page to include the relevant part above the fold. Here is what it says:
WELCOME TO THE NEW DIVISION OF ELECTIONS WEBSITE!
I found this nuggest of gold by dropping the Dodo prefix to get dos.state.fl.us which now redirects to http://dos.myflorida.com - from there I located a directory called /elections/. So the Division of Elections has a new website. That they didn't tell anybody about. Where are the Dodo search tools that actually enable users to review Campaign contributions?
To get those tools, you need to go to a contextual link for the 'Media Room' in the footer of the elections page above containing contact details. From there, you need to go below the fold again to click on the 'Campaign Finance' contextual link. Then, another three pages down is the Campaign Finance resources - again directly above the footer.
There is nothing unusual about a new website, or even changing a domain. But even a first-day-on-the-job web developer is familiar with a 301 or permanent redirect. Clearly someone with the Department of State is capable of copying and pasting a redirect from a howto guide, because such a redirect is in place for dos.state.fl.us, just not the applications at doedoe.dos.state.fl.us. In fairness, redirects can break web applications. However if this were the case for Dodo, a redirect could have been placed to a landing page for the applications.
I am not the only one who depended upon a reliable path for these applications. The Florida 1st District Court of Appeals referenced the older URL in decisions (PDF). Journalists across the country rely on these applications to research campaign finance issues in Florida. This migration should have been handled with basic competency.