Penalties unlikely for missing voter database deadline

           
States on the verge of installing voter registration databases likely
won't run afoul of federal law if their systems aren't ready by the January
deadline.


           
"To think that everyone will be ready and have these databases up and
running in time for the 2006 primaries is not realistic," said Dan Seligson,
editor of Electionline.org, a nonpartisan think tank in

Washington


that studies election reform.


           
Instead, the Justice Department will be looking to ensure that states are
"making a good-faith effort and are well on their way" toward that goal,
Seligson said.


           
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 initially required states to have a
statewide voter registration database installed by January 2004. But when it
became apparent that the deadline was unrealistic, the federal government
extended it by two years.


           
A June report, "Assorted Roles: Statewide Voter Registration Databases
under HAVA," by Electionline.org, indicates that only

Alabama


,

Illinois


and

New York


are still deciding how to construct their database. The remaining states either
have a system that meets federal guidelines or expect to have a centralized
database complete by the deadline, the report said.


           
But plenty of opportunities remain for systems integrators to assist
states that haven't started the work or that want to upgrade outdated systems
even if they meet federal requirements, company officials said.


           
States that are expected to issue requests for proposals to overhaul and
improve systems include

Alaska


,

Arizona


,

California


and

Georgia


, company officials said.


           
Not every state will make the January deadline, Seligson said. "It's
a mammoth undertaking, and even those states that already have built databases
have run into problems," he said.


           
 Other states are adopting a
wait-and-see attitude. "Some states are waiting to see what happens Jan. 1,
and how the market shakes out" before issuing solicitations, said Meg
McLaughlin, a partner and chief executive of eDemocracy services at Accenture
Ltd. For this reason, the company is still pursuing "big-ticket" voter
registration projects, she said.


           
The Help America Vote Act includes several key reforms, such as creating
statewide voter registration databases, replacing obsolete voting equipment and
installing at each polling place at least one voting machine designed for people
with disabilities.


           
States that were late getting started on statewide voter registration
databases were held in stasis while debate over other reforms delayed
legislative action, Electionline.org's Seligson said.


           
"For the most part, the problem was legislatures being bogged down by
some other election issue," he said. "The database requirement is a very
clear mandate. There's not a lot to fight about in the legislature when it
comes to a database."


           
States have different approaches to implementing the voter registration
databases, Electionline.org said. Some states use a "top-down" approach with
a unified database; the state maintains voter registration information, which
localities supply.


           
Others use a "bottom-up" approach in which counties and cities retain
their own voter registration lists, and feed the information to the state at
regular intervals. Electionline.org's findings were based on a nationwide
survey of state election directors.


           
Although the Election Assistance Commission, the federal body overseeing
the reforms, asserts that a top-down system is more closely akin to the intent
of the legislation, it is allowing states to use the bottom-up approach as well,
the group said.


           
More than half of states chose to contract out construction of their
voter registration databases, the group said. Among the systems integrators
tapped for those projects are Accenture, Covansys Corp. and Unisys Corp. Costs
for the systems range from $1 million to $20 million.


           
Unisys in December won a contract worth $8 million over seven years from

Virginia


to implement a statewide voter registration database in time to meet the
federal deadline. Unisys' subcontractors on the project are Quest Information
Systems Inc. of

Indianapolis


and Aradyme Corp. of

Orem

,
Utah


. 


           
Accenture has major voter registration database projects in

Arkansas


,

Colorado


,

Pennsylvania


,

Wisconsin


and

Wyoming


. At press time, the company was preparing to test voter registration systems in


Colorado


,

Wisconsin


and

Wyoming


, Accenture's McLaughlin said. Systems in

Arkansas


and

Pennsylvania


are deployed, she said.


           
Covansys has voter registration database projects in six states:

Idaho


,

Maine


,

Nevada


,

New Hampshire


,

New Jersey


and

Rhode Island


. The systems in

Idaho


and

Rhode Island


are complete, and those in the other four states will be ready by the January
deadline, said John Bastin, vice president of election practices at Covansys
Corp.,

Framingham

,
Mich.





           
The company partnered with PCC Technology Group Inc. of

Bloomfield

,
Conn.


, on all six projects and with Aradyme on all of the projects except

Rhode Island


's, he said. PCC provides the software that powers the voter registration
system, and Aradyme handles voter data migration and conversion services.


           
Although the initial growth spurt from the Help America Vote Act is
winding down, there are ample opportunities to enhance and maintain existing
systems, Bastin said.


"The majority of our clients have asked us to provide
anywhere from three to seven years maintenance and support," he said.


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