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Last updated 5:33AM ET
February 28, 2021
New Voter Registration System Still Unfinished
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Gov. Bob Riley, who missed a court-ordered deadline for developing a statewide computerized voter registration system, has asked a federal judge to give him two more months to finish the work.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins told the U.S. Department of Justice to respond to Riley's request for more time by Sept. 12.

"We're aware of the situation and evaluating our options," Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin said Thursday.

The Justice Department, which sued Democratic Secretary of State Nancy Worley last year for being tardy on completing the project, filed no objections last month when Riley notified the court that it appeared he would be late.

In a report to the federal court Tuesday, Riley said he "is confident" full compliance will be achieved on or before Oct. 31. The biggest holdup is implementing computer technology to check voters' Social Security numbers through the state Department of Public Safety, the governor reported.

The federal Help American Vote Act mandated that each state develop a computerized statewide voter registration system and provided money for equipment. In Alabama, the job fell to the secretary of state.

Worley missed the Jan. 1, 2006, deadline for finishing the job and got sued by the U.S. Justice Department in May 2006.

In August 2006, Watkins took the responsibility away from the Democratic secretary of state and gave it to the Republican governor. The judge gave Riley a deadline of Aug. 31, 2007.

Riley notified the judge in August that the state would be substantially compliant by the deadline, but not fully compliant. On the deadline, Riley sought a two-month extension until Oct. 31 and said the delay would not harm any election.

Jim Spearman, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, said Thursday it was hypocritical for Riley to have criticized Worley and then be tardy himself.

Spearman said he always believed the case was politically motivated because "other states were in the same situation and nothing was done to them."

After Worley had the computer duties taken away, she lost her re-election bid to Republican Beth Chapman.

Riley's communications director, Jeff Emerson, said that under the governor's supervision, the state hired a computer firm, ES&S, to develop the system for $6.2 million.

Worley had solicited proposals, but had never hired a firm when the federal judge took the responsibility away.

In a progress report to the court, Riley's legal adviser, Ken Wallis, said Alabama's voter registration computer system should be able to check death records at the Alabama Department of Public Health and conviction records at the state Administrative Office of Courts by Sept. 20.

A more complex system for verifying voters' Social Security numbers through the state Department of Public Safety and the Social Security Administration should be operational by the second week of October, Wallis wrote.

Once the computer system is fully operational, there will be additional issues to address that are beyond the court's order, Wallis noted, including the need for additional computer equipment in some counties and the advisability and affordability of a secondary backup data center.

Emerson said very preliminary estimates for the equipment are $3 million to $4 million.

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