Harrison County Chosen To Pilot Election Reforms In Mississippi

Gayle Parker remembers when she took over the Circuit Clerk's job 13 years ago. One of her top priorities was purging more than 15,000 people from the voter rolls.

"We worked that summer, cleaning up the rolls, day and night. We sure did. They were bad addresses, people that have moved, and deceased people."

Now, Parker's job will get a lot easier. Harrison County is one of 11 counties chosen to work out the bugs in a new computer system that links every circuit clerk's office in Mississippi.

Congress ordered Mississippi and every state in the country to have the system up and running by 2006. It's part of the "Help America Vote Act," and it's supposed to fix some major flaws in the election process.

"We'll be able to look at every county in Mississippi to see if someone is registered. We will be able to look at the driver's license bureau to see if there's been a change of address. So we'll have a lot of tools that help us do our job."

Secretary of State Eric Clark is responsible for making sure the new system is ready by January. He shared his excitement with a group of Merchant Marine Veterans on Thursday.

"We're going to have the beginning of the cleanest voter rolls than we've ever had in Mississippi, and that's the main thing we can do to fight voter fraud is to clean voter rolls."

The Help America Vote Act also requires circuit clerks' offices in Mississippi to upgrade voting machines, or replace outdated machines. They'll also have to make it easier for the disabled and military personnel and their families overseas to cast their ballots.

"These are major reforms. We're excited about the prospects of making our elections better," Clark said.

"Hopefully, our lines won't be as long and there won't be a lot of people that are confused of where they have to go vote," Parker said.

Clark says the system will be ready by the state's congressional and judicial elections next year. Municipal elections in May and June will not be affected by the reforms.