Alabama Struggles With Registration Backlog

Counties across Alabama struggled to deal with a backlog of thousands of last-minute voter registrations as the state's longtime head of voter registration quit Wednesday, less than two weeks before Election Day.

Secretary of State Nancy Worley's (search) office also was attempting to sort out a record-keeping discrepancy that left uncertain the actual number of registered voters in the state - thought to be about 2.54 million.

The seeming disarray led some would-be voters to wonder whether their vote would get counted Nov. 2.

"It looks like it's crooked," said Robert Wells, who moved to suburban Birmingham from Washington in September and learned of the backlog when he inquired why he had not received a voter registration card. "I might just get an absentee ballot from Washington."

Able to vote:

Worley said none of the problems should prevent anyone from voting, but she was still worried that confidence in the election system could be shaken.

With about 37,000 newly registered voters statewide in September and as many as 110,000 additional voters this year, county registration offices have been inundated with registration forms that need to be processed before the election. Friday is the deadline to register.

As counties dealt with the surge of new voter forms, Anita Tatum, director of the State Office of Voter Registration, said she resigned under pressure Tuesday evening. She referred questions to officials at the Alabama State Employees Association.

Executive Director Mac McArthur said Tatum was "a victim of harassment," and her only choice was to resign or be fired. "If the secretary of state does not immediately reinstate her, we anticipate litigation," he said.

Worley said the resignation came after Tatum could not explain discrepancies between the computerized voter registration rolls maintained by Tatum's office and voter registration statistics posted on the secretary of state's Web site. Worley said she plans to name an acting director of voter registration within a day or two, and she expects no problems for the election.

The Legislature placed Tatum's office under Worley in 2003. Testimony at a state personnel hearing in March showed that Worley had mentioned the possibility of firing Tatum, who was elected president of the National Association of State Election Directors in 1995.

Madison County registrar Lynda Hairston said Tatum would be missed, particularly in the final days before the election. "We've been calling Anita for a lot of advice. She has been wonderful to us," she said.

Madison has signed up 12,292 new voters since June, Hairston said, and "we're going to be working this weekend for sure." In Shelby County, new registrations are coming in at a rate of 500 a day, leading to a backlog of about 1,500 forms.

No problem seen:

Officials said new voters should be able to vote, even if they register near the deadline. A small number may have to cast provisional votes, but those are to be counted just like regular ballots once verified by election officials.

As state officials coped with Tatum's departure, they also were trying to resolve a record-keeping problem that Worley said was linked in part to the huge number of new voters.

A state computer system is used to maintain voter registration records, but counties have their own records and the secretary of state's Web site has a separate breakdown of registration by counties through the years. Worley, elected in 2002, said the Web-based records are unofficial and some have been found to be incorrect, including some for this year.

Worley said reviews have found disagreements between state computer records and local records on the numbers of registered voters in eight counties: Bullock, Fayette, Lee, Macon, Mobile, St. Clair, Shelby and Tuscaloosa.

"The (state) system is showing fewer voters than the Web site is showing, but the Web site is unofficial," she said. "No one wants any discrepancies, but this is not a major thing."