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Judge removes secretary of state from panel

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A federal judge has removed Secretary of State Beth Chapman from a commission created by Gov. Bob Riley to implement a statewide voter registration database.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins ordered last week that the new secretary of state be removed from the commission since she is now the defendant in the lawsuit.

The U.S. Justice Department filed the suit last year against then-Secretary of State Nancy Worley after she missed a deadline for developing the computerized database.

Watkins then ordered Riley to take over the project.

Riley created the Help America Vote Implementation Commission to help him with the project.

When Chapman defeated Worley in the election Nov. 6, Riley appointed Chapman to the commission.

But when Chapman replaced Worley in the secretary of state’s office in January, she automatically replaced Worley as the defendant in the Justice Department’s suit.

Chapman said Wednesday as a member of the commission she has participated in negotiations with computer companies seeking to create the voter list and feels she has helped save the state money.

But Chapman said she understands the judge’s concerns since she is the defendant in the lawsuit.

“As secretary of state, I walked into a lawsuit that I didn’t cause, but I was honored to be a part of the solution,” Chapman said.

Watkins said in his order that Chapman’s participation on the commission might make it difficult for her to talk candidly with the state Attorney General’s office, which is representing her in the lawsuit. Also, Watkins said her work with the implementation committee might confuse county election officials and make them think the secretary of state and not the governor is in charge of creating the voter list.

“The independence of both offices is subject to compromise, and confusion of the roles of the parties is virtually inevitable,” Watkins said in his order.

Watkins has given Riley until Aug. 31 to create a voter registration list that was required by the federal Help America Vote Act.

The commission is behind a timetable it had set to have a computer contract completed and approved by the Legislature’s Contract Review Committee by Jan. 18. The governor’s office has said the state is in negotiations with a computer company and hopes to award a contract soon.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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