- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

President Bush said yesterday that if new recommendations from a bipartisan voting reform commission had been in place during the 2000 presidential election, he would have won in a "landslide."

The impromptu comment, which drew laughter during an Oval Office bill-signing event, came shortly after the president "heartily" endorsed the commission's core principles.

Among other recommendations, the 103-page report calls for safeguarding military absentee ballots and asks the media to refrain from reporting results until polls in the 48 continental states are closed.

Mr. Bush lost thousands of votes in the Florida Panhandle in the 2000 election after television networks mistakenly called the state for former Vice President Al Gore. Mr. Gore, who later argued in court that thousands of military ballots should be thrown out but never led after numerous recounts, conceded 36 days after the election.

In a Rose Garden ceremony yesterday with former President Jimmy Carter and former House Minority Leader Bob Michel standing in for former President Gerald Ford, who could not attend Mr. Bush said the commission report's four main recommendations "are principles that should guide us all."

"I commend the commissioners for their statesmanlike work. They have risen above partisan emotions and put forth practical suggestions for improving democracy, and the United States Congress should listen to them and follow their lead," Mr. Bush said.

The four core principles made by the panel, which had Mr. Carter and Mr. Ford as chairmen, are:

•Reaffirm the primary role of state, county and local governments to administer elections.

•Give the federal government a limited role in helping states and localities in their administration of elections.

•Enforce laws that protect the voting rights of minorities, non-English-speaking immigrants, the elderly and the disabled.

•Uphold the voting rights of the military stationed abroad and safeguard all absentee ballots from abuse.

The president drew laughter from about 60 guests in the Rose Garden when he noted the "over-eagerness of the media to report the outcome of the elections."

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president wants to ensure all legitimately cast ballots count by asking the media to refrain from reporting results until polls are closed in all states but Hawaii and Alaska.

"He does think that is a good recommendation because he believes it will help protect the integrity of the ballot, that will help people in various regions of the country not be disenfranchised because of events out of their control in a different region of the country," he said.

Mr. Carter said Congress may need to step in to curtail media forecasts if the major networks fail to do so voluntarily.

"If necessary, Congress and the states should consider legislation, within First Amendment limits, to protect the integrity of the electoral process," the panel said.

Other recommendations call for states to:

•Establish a uniform statewide system for voter registration.

•Allow "provisional" voting, in which people who don't appear on election rolls will be allowed to cast ballots, the validity of which will later be determined by election officials.

•Restore voting rights to convicted felons once they have served their sentences or ended their probation period.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said the Carter-Ford panel "took a serious look at our election laws and found ways to improve them. I think this commission gives us a framework from which to work."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt issued a joint statement saying that now "it is up to Congress to act in accordance with the broad goals of the commission." They noted that a Senate committee marks up its first election overhaul measure tomorrow.

The commission also called on Congress to allocate $300 million to $400 million annually for the next several years to help states replace antiquated voting equipment.

But the commission did not advocate replacing the punch-card ballot system in favor of optical scan systems, because advocates for the blind and disabled oppose the move.

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