Showing the way to new voter ID

Help America Vote Act of 2002

When Austin, Texas, staged its local election runoff this month, it became a poster child of sorts for the way all U.S. elections may be run in the near future.

Under the 2002 Help America Vote Act, all states and localities that accept federal funds to replace manual punch card and lever voting systems should have a computerized voter registration database system in place by the start of 2006.

Travis County, where Austin is located, is one of the first in the country to qualify voters through such a database using information contained on driver's licenses.

Instead of visually checking names against printed lists of registered voters, poll workers in Travis County simply swipe the magnetic stripe on a driver's license through a reader, and the voter information is automatically compared to a central voter database.

Using the previous method, "voters would have to wait anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to have their registration verified," said Dusty Knight, chief deputy of Travis County's tax office, which also registers voters. "Now there are no lines."

It's also an easy system to implement, according to Knight. Temporary workers can handle the necessary input for this system within an hour. It's basically "a complete automation" of the registration process, he said.

The system, developed by Texas-based information technology solutions company Hamer Enterprises, uses IBM Corp.'s WebSphere and DB2 database technology. It is linked in real time with a geographic information system that tracks each voter to a specific street address and verifies within seconds that the voter is qualified for a particular district's election.

The company also provides systems based on the same technology for tracking and payment of taxes. At the beginning of the year, it also introduced a system for online collection of court fees.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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