- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

A bipartisan election-reform bill that sets minimum standards for conducting elections and encourages elimination of punch-card voting is picking up steam in anticipation of today's House vote, its backers said yesterday.
"More and more people as they read it have come to the conclusion that it's a good bill," said Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. Mr. Hoyer is one of the chief sponsors of the bill, along with Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican. The two are the top lawmakers on the House Administration Committee.
The bill is the House's attempt to remedy problems experienced in the 2000 elections and its disputed presidential vote count. It is still being revised to attract the support of groups that represent disabled Americans.
But lawmakers said its wide-ranging list of supporters 173 as of yesterday afternoon suggests they have put together a good bill.
The bill provides $2.65 billion over three years, divided into two streams of money. The first fund would have $400 million to phase out punch-card voting machines, which would not be mandatory.
The remaining money would pay for training elections officials and poll workers, for mailings from elections officials to voters, and for other improvements or innovations proposed by states.
It also would require states to construct better voter registration systems to help prevent voter fraud and properly identify voters.
Mr. Ney and Mr. Hoyer said they chose minimum standards to provide states flexibility in addressing problems they identify.
Critics like Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, argue that the bill allows states to substitute for key requirements such as permitting people who show up at polls without their voter registration cards to cast provisional ballots.
Critics also oppose a provision that allows states to begin to clean voter registration rolls. Registrars haven't been able to do that since Congress passed the Motor-Voter law, which increased registration rolls significantly.
To qualify for the punch-card buyout, a state would have to have used punch-card voting machines in the 2000 election.
But several lawmakers from states that have already phased out punch-card machines said they are in effect punished by having already gotten rid of their machines.
Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, said his state already stopped using the machines. He proposed creating a single stream of money and letting those states that want to use the money to get rid of punch-card machines do so.
But Mr. Ney and Mr. Hoyer said with the amount of money available to states in the overall improvement fund no state should feel penalized.
A reform bill passed a Senate committee over the summer, but Republicans boycotted the committee meeting, complaining they didn't have a voice in writing the bill. Since then, four senators two from each party have been working on a compromise before bringing the bill to the Senate floor.

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