New voter registration system to connect state

Friday, March 26, 2004

Federally mandated election reform took another step forward Thursday when Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt an-nounced a contract was awarded to MAXIMUS for the creation and installation of the state's new centralized voter registration system.

Once completed, the system will connect Missouri's 116 election jurisdictions, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Corrections and state health agencies to the secretary of state's office.

The system is intended to provide a reliable and up-to-date list of registered voters in each local jurisdiction and avoid future incidents of voter fraud.

All states are required by federal mandate to enact a centralized voter registration system because of the Help America Vote Act that came into effect October 2002. The act provides states with money to replace punch card voting systems, establish an Election Assistance Commission and to set minimum election administration standards.

"The system in Missouri wasn't working that badly, realistically," said Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller. "I think it will modernize and improve some things, as long as it works [as intended]," he said.

While the centralized voter registration is mandatory, counties all over the country are allowed to decide whether to keep the punch card voting system or replace it with an electronic voting system.

Cape Girardeau County has used punch cards since 1980 without major problems, but no decision has been made yet as to whether the county will transfer to an electronic system, Miller said.

Counties in Missouri were recently given an extension and now have until January 2006 to decide about the voting system.

Election reform has been a priority for Blunt since he came into office in 2001. In 2002, a state election reform bill that, among other things, made it a requirement for voters to show identification each time they vote

The push for changes in the election process came after the November 2000 elections, when problems with voter fraud and irregularities afflicted the country and St. Louis County.

St. Louis County faced problems with inactive voter registration lists, fraudulent ballots being casts and the polling stations staying open too long.

The centralized voter registration system is intended to prevent votes being cast by the deceased or felons as well as people who register in multiple jurisdictions, said Spence Jackson, communications director for the office of the secretary of state.

Currently, updated registration information from the county is sent to the secretary of state's office once a month, Miller said.

The centralized system will also allow for any changes in the voter registration information to be made available immediately to the secretary of state's office.

According to Jackson, federal money will pay for the updated systems, which he said are "one of the more costly requirements of HAVA."

Although the federal government mandates the system be working by December 2006, Jackson said those involved hope to have it up and running ahead of time.

kalfisi@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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