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Published: Friday, 6/20/2003

Database plan takes new turn

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

COLUMBUS - A project to establish a statewide database with comprehensive information from every registered voter in Ohio has encountered a fork in the road.

But state elections officials here believe they have made the right choice to move the enterprise forward, an assistant to Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said yesterday.

Speaking to hundreds of county elections officials gathered at the convention center here, state Election Reform Director Dana Walch said the project, which had been open to bids from private firms, has been redirected to computer experts inside state government. The experts are to design a program that will combine the databases of 88 county elections offices into one statewide program.

Keeping it as an in-house project “was a better option for the state,” Mr. Walch said.

Ohio's county elections officials already are under pressure to replace their punch card and lever voting machines with new electronic voting systems, a complicated process expected to take several months to implement.

Mr. Walch said the state reviewed off-the-shelf database programs offered by several vendors, but they all would require counties to adapt their database programs to conform with a new state program.

He said experts in Mr. Blackwell's office have since determined a computer program could be written to accept data from counties - which use different database systems - without causing the counties to change their programs.

“We don't think it's going to be that difficult a process,” Mr. Walch said. “You are going to be doing things much the same way you are doing them now.”

He also predicted that developing the project in-house would save the state a significant amount of money. The federal government allocated Ohio up to $5 million for the project.

The statewide database is one of several new requirements mandated under a federal election reform law passed late last year. Federal lawmakers envisioned it as a measure to fight fraudulent voter registrations.

New voters - those who have signed up since Jan. 1 - will be subject to new requirements, including the demand that they produce identification proving they are qualified to vote.

The reform measure stems from the 2000 presidential election in Florida and Missouri, where substantial fraud was unearthed in the aftermath of the election, Mr. Walch said.

Mr. Walch also warned the county officials that while they might not face any costs associated with replacing their antiquated lever and punch card voting machines, they should expect to shoulder costs to store their new electronic voting machines.

Joe Kidd, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said he already has alerted county commissioners that upgrades will be required to accommodate new voting machines. He said the county's warehouse storage area will need additional climate control, some increased electrical outlets, a new security system, and new flooring.

He said the cost of the improvements is unclear.



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