JEFFERSON CITY - In 1980, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren lived through the nightmare of voter registration without the help of a computer system. Swamped with paperwork, her office was unable to process 5,000 voters.
Never again, she vowed.
During the past 16 years, Boone County has developed an advanced computer system to make voter registration easier and more manageable. Most other Missouri counties have lagged behind, however, and resemble more the Boone County of 1980 than of today. Fifteen Missouri counties still use pencil and paper to track their voters.
"I was shocked at the level at which most of the clerks within the state had to work," said Noren, who toured county clerks' offices throughout the state as part of Secretary of State Rebecca Cook's committee to improve voter registration.
The counties that have fallen years behind Boone, however, will be getting up to speed in a hurry. A $3.4 million system to centralize and computerize county voter registration lists will be near completion in time for November's general election, Cook said at a press conference on Monday.
The statewide database of voters, which was mandated by 1994 legislation, will link county voter registration lists to one centralized list in the state Capital. Voter registration data will be transmitted over the Internet but will only be accessible to local election authorities and the secretary of state's office.
In addition to making record keeping more efficient, this will allow counties to check lists from other counties against their own to make sure there is no fraud, Cook said.
"This is the first time in the history of Missouri that we will be able to check across county lines for duplicate registration," she said.
Boone County and six other counties that already have advanced computer systems to track voter registration will be the only counties not using standardized software developed and implemented by Election Technology Co. of Raleigh, N.C. Instead, their data will be downloaded onto the centralized system.
Missouri is one of the first states to construct a centralized database of registered voters, said Rebecca Ridenhour-Schuster, the state's director of information technology. But because of the recent passage of the "motor-votor" bill and the resulting increase in voter registration, more states are looking to set up a similar system.
"There are other states that will use us as the model state for voter registration," Ridenhour-Shuster said.