Pa. plans central voter database

Before the 2004 elections, Pennsylvania hopes to roll out a centralized voter database that would automatically update records when people register, die or move, identify duplicate records, and standardize procedures among county election officials.

The commonwealth (www.state.pa.us) on July 24 announced a multimillion-dollar contract with Accenture to oversee the implementation of the system, called the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors, or SURE.

"In August of 2000, [then-Gov. Tom] Ridge started to look into having a centralized voting system," said Allison Hrestak, press secretary for Pennsylvania's Department of State. "But with the aftermath of the 2000 election, that's when it was then decided to put together this governor's task force to make these recommendations, to get Pennsylvania to be a leader among [states] in the nation's election reforms.

"We look at ourselves as being a competitor and a leader among the different states in the nation right now in doing this," she added.

Through SURE, Pennsylvania's 67 counties — which currently maintain separate voter registration databases — will be supported by a common platform helping election workers keep accurate records and determine voter eligibility.

The system will be able to crosscheck records electronically and discover duplicate registrations, enabling election officials to investigate further. When voters move across county lines, the system will promptly transfer records and alert election officials from both counties about the move.

SURE will be electronically linked to the state Department of Transportation's Motor Voter registration applications as well as to the Department of Health's records system to identify and remove deceased registrants.

The system will help prevent fraud, Hrestak said, because the lag time in removing, for example, a deceased registrant's name from the rolls is cut down and the tie-in to the health department's database could prevent another person from co-opting a deceased person's registration.

Although the goal is to have the system up and running by fall 2003, Hrestak said a gubernatorial executive order mandates it be implemented no later than 2005. She said she didn't know the dollar amount in the contract, but the commonwealth has allocated $8.5 million for the first year. "We can't speculate until the General Assembly appropriates more money toward it," she said.

Accenture is the systems integrator leading a project team that includes Unisys, which will provide data conversion and infrastructure support services, and Diversified Data Services, which will provide help-desk services. The latter two companies are Pennsylvania-based.

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