Thursday, February 10, 2005

County chosen for pilot program
Staff Writer

Marshall County’s Election Commission and Circuit Clerk Lucy Carpenter will have a big impact on the implementation of the Help America Vote Act in Mississippi, scheduled by the U.S. Congress to be implemented by 2006 nationwide.

Marshall has been selected as one of eight to be a pilot county in implementing this program, according to Lucy Carpenter, circuit clerk.

Carpenter was recently appointed by Secretary of State Eric Clark to serve on the standards committee for the state-wide voter registry.

Election Commissioner Marie Palmer was elected to a second full term on the Mississippi Association of Election Commissioners Board of Directors for the 1st Congressional District. She said it is an honor to serve on the district board since only one other election commissioner from Marshall County, Virginia Armour, has ever been selected to the board.

Palmer said the big topic at this year’s annual convention and certification training meeting in Biloxi in January was getting the counties ready for compliance with the Help America Vote Act.

She said the voting act was passed by Congress as a direct result of the 1999 Presidential Election controversy in Florida.

Implementing the provisions of the act will take place in a step-at-a-time fashion, Palmer said.

“We will get to work on the state-wide voter registry first,” she said.

When the system is set up, the voter rolls of every county will be on the state-wide registry making it possible to prevent voters from voting more than once in an election. What the system will do is keep track of voters who move and register in another county. It essentially eliminates the potential for a voter to be listed as an active voter in more than one place at one time.

“This will help us clean up the voter rolls,” she said.

The circuit clerks are very excited about having a state-wide sytem of handling voter registration on a computerized network. The system will be more efficient for election commissioners and more accurate, and pevent a lot of potential voter fraud, Palmer said.

National standards for voting equipment mandated by Congress are also being studied and revised to meet the new requirements.

“We’re just real excited about it,” said Palmer. “We will be able to scan applications and have a voter signature on file.”

Carpenter said the eight circuit clerks selected by Eric Clark to review standards have met twice to familiarize themselves with the standards review and implementation process.

The state has secured a contractor to help study the Congressional requirements and spell out what is in the law, Carpenter said.

The standards committee will critique the work of the contractor to make sure the requirements of law are met, including common everyday things that must be done.

She said training of election commissioners and circuit clerks across the state to use the state-wide computer system for voter registration maintenance will be important.

“The plan is to implement this program in the eight counties and use it to be sure the bugs are worked out,” Carpenter said. “Then we will select 10 other counties to train at a time. It is worked out that everything will be in place by the end of the year.”

Carpenter said the computer program used by the secretary of state and circuit clerks will track a number of things besides voter registration. Campaign finance information will be tracked. The system will also prepare the local ballots quicker and place them on the Internet for the public.

“The public will be able to check the ballot and access all of the data including the state-wide voter registry,” she said.

The computer system will also do much of the cross checking that has up until now been done manually by election commissioners and circuit clerks.

When an independent candidate or group of petitioners submits a list of names on a petition, the computer system will cross check the signatures. The system will also cross check signatures on affidavit envelopes with voters’ signatures on their applications - thereby assisting commissioners in certifying the vote.

“Once you enter a petition, if two or three petitions are circulating, it catches the names of anyone who has signed more than once,” Carpenter said. “This will narrow it down and the computer will compare the signatures on a petition with the voter signature. It will eliminate a lot of work for us and make our work more accurate.”

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