- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

The House easily passed a bipartisan election-reform bill yesterday, exactly a year after the Supreme Court effectively ended the 2000 presidential election, that would pay for states to get rid of punch-card voting machines and set standards for conducting elections.
The bill, which passed 362-63, authorizes $2.65 billion over three years, with $400 million dedicated to phasing out punch-card machines and the rest to be spent by states on voter education, poll-worker training, or upgrading voting or registration systems.
It also requires states to define what constitutes an official vote and to allow for provisional voting when a voter's name doesn't appear on the election rolls.
"This is a monstrous vote on a bill that could have been so divisive and so explosive," said sponsor Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, also sponsored the bill.
The bill, supported by 196 Republicans, 165 Democrats and one independent, was designed to correct many of the flaws exposed by last year's elections, when "hanging chads" and uncounted absentee ballots dominated an entire month's worth of news.
The bill would require states to:
Have a statewide registration system linked to each locality in the state and a system for cleaning the list.
Allow voters who show up at the polls to vote provisionally if election officials can't find their names on the rolls.
Make sure overseas military voters' ballots are counted.
Require new voting systems to be accessible to the disabled.
Create a definition for what constitutes a valid vote, to avoid the situation in Florida where judges debated how far a ballot chad had to be dislodged to be considered a vote.
The bill also would encourage high school students to volunteer as poll workers to boost the number of election officials and get young people involved.
Opposition came on two fronts.
Conservative Republicans argued that the bill went too far in its dictates to states. Most of those Republicans were from states that already had made changes and they feared the bill would stifle those improvements.
Democratic opponents, meanwhile, said the bill didn't go far enough in telling states what to do. They wanted the bill to require specific steps, rather than just a list of goals they must meet.
"The federal government should have the ability to take action against states that fail to meet minimum standards, and it's not possible under this bill," said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, California Democrat.
The final vote was overwhelming, but the real action took place on the rules the Republican leadership constructed governing the floor debate. The rules prevented opponents from offering amendments, so they tried to scuttle the rules and send the bill back to committee to be amended to address their concerns.
In particular, they wanted to eliminate the provisions that would let election officials clean the rolls, they called for specific types of provisional voting and they wanted to require all polling places to be accessible to the disabled.
But Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican and the man who shepherded the rules debate yesterday, said the bill itself was a middle-of-the-road approach and allowing amendments from either side would make the final product less bipartisan.
Opponents failed on two separate votes to try to force amendments.
Now critics are turning their attention to the Senate, where a deal on a bipartisan election-reform bill is expected as early as today.
Meanwhile, the challenge for House members now will be to find money in the budget to match the authorization. Mr. Ney and Mr. Hoyer said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, has promised part of the funding in the next supplemental appropriations bill, due early next year.

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