State works to introduce voter reform
Published: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 1:08 a.m.
In a year or so, you're likely not to need it.
A driver's license will suffice.
Making it easier to vote is what Congress had in mind in October when it passed the "Help America Vote Act."
The act mandates all states to create a unified voter registration system that will cross-reference files with the names of drivers.
A statewide voter roll is supposed to correct the problems experienced during the presidential election of 2000 when civil rights organizations claimed that eligible voters had been removed from some county voter rolls, while ineligible voters had been allowed to vote.
"The computer will know automatically if a person is registered somewhere else," said Beverly Hill, supervisor of elections for Alachua County.
By having one system, voters would not have to re-register to vote each time they move into another county. Ideally, changing an address on a driver's license would automatically transfer voter registration from one county to the next.
The logistics of implementing such a system - that, according to the federal legislation, must be in place by January 2004 - will be one of the issues discussed Monday at a three-day conference in Citrus County of the state Association of Supervisors of Elections. It is also the No. 1 priority outlined in a 49-page report released earlier this week by the governor's Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology, which met after the November elections.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore, who is president of the state association and a member of the task force, said questions still remain on how the unified system would work.
Bringing together billions of bits of data together in one place is hard enough. But the process is further complicated by the need to get the state Department of Motor Vehicles and, as a secondary precaution, the Social Security Administration, to share information, she said.
It is hoped that cross-checking will help ensure that only those people with a felony record, those who have died or those who appear on the voter roll more than once are removed.
At the same time, a single picture ID could make handling voters easier on election day.
"Use of driver's licenses for voter identification is very helpful to elections administrators because such licenses have pictures and are, at least every few years, updated with current residence and other information," the report concluded.
Even so, the biggest obstacle confronting election reform has little to do with data entry. It will be a lack of money.
"It's going to take an incredible amount of money to do this," LePore said.
Congress, even though it overwhelmingly supported the "Help America Vote Act," has yet to appropriate the $3.86 billion to implement the state-monitored voter rolls nationwide, as well as other mandates included in the act.
Congress is expected to consider a host of appropriations bills it didn't act on in 2002 by the end of the month. But with war with Iraq looming and a softened economy, it is unclear if election reform will attract the votes.
U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, wrote in an e-mail Friday that he supports the "Help America Vote Act" and wants to see it funded.
"Congress should provide funding to upgrade voting equipment, decrease error rates, enhance voter access and other steps to improve the voting process," Stearns said.
Meanwhile, the state Legislature is facing a brutal session when it must come up with the money to reduce class sizes and implement a pre-kindergarten program statewide - two constitutional amendments passed by voters in November.
"Is there momentum behind election changes? Yes," said Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who also served on the governor's task force. "Unless we can get some help in the heavy lifting, there aren't going to be much changes."
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@ gvillesun.com.
Lack of money an obstacle
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