Lawmakers look to mend campaign, balloting flaws

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Fresh off the 2004 elections, members of Congress have plenty of ideas about how to revamp voting and the way presidential campaigns are run.

Arguing that the public-financing system for presidential nominees is broken, two top House members, House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, have introduced a bill to create a uniform day for when the public financing takes effect for a general election.

“This bipartisan measure is based on the basic principle of fairness — neither political party should have an advantage when it comes to spending public dollars on political campaigns,” Mr. Ney said.

If passed, the bill would designate the Friday before Labor Day — generally viewed as the start of the general election — as the day on which both parties’ nominees would receive public funds with which to mount their general campaigns, rather than the day on which the candidate is formally nominated.

During last year’s campaign, Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry considered opting out of the public-financing system because he had to stretch his public money a month longer than President Bush, whose nominating convention came a month after Mr. Kerry’s.

The Federal Election Commission raised concerns last week about the public campaign-match funding for presidential primaries, calling it antiquated.

The FEC cited a trend of candidates declining the funding, a 15 percent drop in tax filers willing to donate the $3 on their returns to the fund, archaic fund-raising restrictions and inadequate matching funds, and forwarded its findings to the administration committee.

Meanwhile, other members of Congress say the nation’s voting procedures and systems need to be updated again based on what they said were failures during the 2004 balloting.

Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barbara Boxer of California and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio have introduced the Count Every Vote Act.

The bill would mandate a voter-verified paper ballot for every vote cast in electronic voting machines and would ensure access to voter verification for all citizens, to be used as the official ballot for purposes of a recount. It also would make presidential Election Day a federal holiday. It would further set a uniform standard for provisional ballots, and require the Federal Election Assistance Commission to issue standards that ensure uniform access to voting machines and trained election personnel in every community.

“This shouldn’t be a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a voter issue, plain and simple. I call upon my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work with us to implement these common-sense measures,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Congress in 2002 passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), designed to correct some of the flaws exposed in the 2000 election. Mr. Ney and state elections officials have said they want to see that act fully funded before Congress begins altering it.

But some of Mr. Ney’s Republican colleagues in the Senate think some adjustments are already called for to preserve the integrity of voting.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, introduced the Voter Protection Act last week to clarify policies in HAVA and alleviate administrative burdens for poll workers.

“I am proud of the advancements made in the 2004 elections,” Mr. McConnell said. “Our bill is a critical next step in providing the tools to improve accurate voter rolls and information at the polling place.”

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