New voting systems face test
By Brian Bakst
ST. PAUL -- As important as WHO prevails in a smattering of primary election contests Tuesday is HOW voting goes in the statewide debut of a new registration system.
Minnesota's top election official, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, describes the changes as behind-the-scenes upgrades most voters won't notice as they cast ballots. But they've left some local election authorities on edge.
"We're nervous," said Chisago County Auditor Dennis Freed. "This thing has not been driven in an election. There's a lot of things that have changed that we're not sure are going to be right or not because they have not really been tested."
The centerpiece is a $4 million computer system that connects all local voter rolls with state and federal databases and that allows officials to more easily modify inaccurate or outdated records. New voters and those with changed addresses must provide a drivers' license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number so officials can verify their identity.
The registration changes grew out of the federal Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed in the shadow of the 2000 election turmoil. They didn't get as much attention as another HAVA directive that states phase out lever and punch-card machines by 2006.
Most states sought and received waivers that gave them until 2006 to revamp registries. But Kiffmeyer pressed to complete the task this year, saying Minnesota had a centralized system it could build on and didn't have to start from scratch like states that put it off.
Not all election officials openly worry about Election Day headaches from the new setup. Pamela Fuller, who oversees voting in Olmsted County, said any change of this magnitude is bound to bring ups and downs.
"Things have gotten better since it was implemented as far as speed and error messages and things like that," Fuller said. "Hopefully, it's OK."