meetings with Microsoft that included representatives from the four EMS vendors and about 10 county auditors or members of their IT staffs, Excell said.

For most county elections officials, however, developing the portal didn't require a great deal of work, said Tom Godkin, assistant elections supervisor of Clark County, Wash.

"Our information was already resident in our county database," Godkin said. "It was just a matter of the vendors working with the state to map how the information was going to fit into the state's system with four different vendors."

Washington state launched the VRDB in December 2005. For Clark County, it hasn't changed the procedures for running elections, and allows the county to keep its database much cleaner, Godkin said.

Before the VRDB, each of Washington's 39 counties maintained its own voter registration data, and no one coordinated this information across county lines. If a person from King County moved to Pierce County and registered to vote there without informing his old election office, his name would appear on the lists in both places.

Duplicates Purged

After the statewide VRDB deployment, the state Elections Division used the system to identify voters who were registered in two counties.

"We found 35,445 duplicate voter registrations," Excell said.

The state also checked its roll against the Social Security Administration's Death Index, allowing counties to purge 19,579 deceased individuals from their lists in the VRDB's first three months of operation.

Doing these audits on a state database safeguards the integrity of elections, Excell said. "It eliminates the potential for abuse -- somebody picking out that someone's dead or moved away, and starting to vote in their name. It removes all temptation."

The state, though, does not purge duplicate registrations on its own. Instead it sends each county a report listing apparent duplicates, so county officials can verify them.

"We had to go through each record and verify that the John B. Smith they identified was the same John B. Smith we had in our system," Godkin said of the names in the state's initial duplicate audit in 2006. The state and counties continue to follow this procedure as new duplicates appear.

Eventually the state will also conduct quarterly checks to identify felons who should be removed from the rolls and reinstate ex-felons who are eligible once again. That function is currently on hold pending a decision on a lawsuit challenging the state's requirements for re-enfranchisement.

Phase two of the project, a two-year effort to develop the state's voter registration portal, started in February 2006.

The aim is to create a place on the state's Web site and each county's Web site where residents can download and print voter registration forms, note address changes and conduct other voting-related transactions. Citizens will also be able to review which elections they have voted in or missed, find out what races they can vote on in the current election, view candidates' statements, and on election night, see the results of local and statewide contests.

"The whole Web portal process will interact with numerous databases, one of which will be the voter registration database," Excell said. "We want it to be seamless."

Visitors to any county's Web site will be able to conduct the same kinds of transactions and view the same kinds of information, but each experience will be tailored to the location. For example, a county will display election results relevant to its own voters, and supplement English-language voter registration forms in various languages to suit its population -- perhaps Chinese in one county and Spanish in another.

While all counties will receive this information from the same source, each display will share the look and feel of the county's own Web site. Microsoft uses its Content

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer