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Judge approves state's new voter system

MONTGOMERY (AP)— A judge ruled Wednesday that Alabama finally has a statewide computerized system for voter registration that meets federal requirements.

U.S. District Judge Keith Wat-kins praised Gov. Bob Riley for doing in 14 months what other state officials had failed to accomplish in three years.

"Governor, you and your staff are to be commended," Watkins told Riley during a court hearing.

The U.S. Justice Department sued Alabama last year after then-Secretary of State Nancy Worley missed the Jan. 1, 2006, deadline for developing the computerized system. Watkins turned over the duties to Riley in August 2006 and set a new deadline of Aug. 31.

Riley had to get an extension of two months, but he and his staff reported to the judge Wed-nesday that the new system began working properly on Monday.

Justice Department attorney Don Palmer agreed.

Riley asked the judge to return responsibility for the computer system to new Secretary of State Beth Chapman, but an attorney representing Chapman said she doesn't want it yet.

Her attorney, Winfield Sinclair, said Riley should retain control at least through the next statewide election — the presidential primary on Feb. 5 — to make sure everything is working properly and to work out some issues that have nothing to do with complying with federal requirements.

"Can I object?" Riley asked the judge.

"When you get your law degree," the judge replied.

Justice Department attorneys asked the judge to keep jurisdiction over the case until after the Feb. 5 matter.

The judge did not immediately rule, but he said, "I am inclined to run this through one election cycle."

The new system is the result of problems in the 2000 presidential election. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act and provided states with money to improve their election equipment and develop statewide computer registration databases.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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