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State touts new voter registration system

Set to go into effect Jan. 3, it will replace separate rolls in each of Florida's 67 counties, rolls that included felon list errors.

Associated Press
Published December 16, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - A new statewide voter registration system will include more information and extensive background checks to avoid problems that have plagued past attempts to purge convicted felons from voting rolls, Florida election officials said Thursday.

The system, set to go into effect Jan. 3, will use driver's license data including photos, Social Security numbers and crime, prison, court and clemency records to determine eligibility.

"We're not going to risk one eligible voter losing his rights," said acting Secretary of State David Mann.

That intense scrutiny will apply only to newly registered voters, people who change their registration and felons convicted after Jan. 3. Everyone else will automatically be transferred into the new system.

For the average voter nothing will change, Mann said.

The statewide system, replacing separate registration rolls in each of Florida's 67 counties, will bring the state into compliance with the Federal Help America Act.

The state in 2000 and 2004 distributed flawed felon lists, including people never convicted of such crimes or whose voting rights had been restored, to election supervisors for use in purging their rolls. The State Department wound up tossing out the 2004 list because of the inaccuracies.

In response, a proposed state constitutional amendment on felons' voting rights and an implementing bill have been introduced for the Florida Legislature's 2006 session. Together they would automatically restore felons' voting rights a year after completing their sentences.

The Florida Constitution now prohibits felons from voting until their rights are restored by the state Clemency Board, made up of Gov. Jeb Bush and Cabinet members. The board recently has taken steps to speed up the process of investigating and deciding clemency requests.

A past problem has been a loose link between clemency and criminal records, said Sanford Bill, systems project consultant for the Division of Elections. The latter often fail to reflect clemency decisions or show that charges have been dropped or reduced to misdemeanors.

Court and prison records now also will be checked, Brill said.

The new registration process requires driver's license and Social Security numbers to ensure a proper match with crime, prison, court and clemency records. Death and mental competency records also will be checked.

Social Security numbers, signatures and other key identification data are exempt from Florida's open records laws to protect voters' privacy.

People without a driver's license or a Social Security number still can register, although records will be checked to confirm they have neither form of identification.

Every voter in the state will be assigned an identification number. A voter who moves to another county would not be required to reregister but still would have to fill out a change of address form that can be mailed in.

Local election officials still have the final say on who is qualified to vote, said Bradford County supervisor Terry Vaughan.

"We have a lot more tools and a lot more information than we've ever had to make that call," said Vaughan, president-elect of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.

[Last modified December 16, 2005, 00:53:08]

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