- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

While many people feel that the window of opportunity on federal election reform is quickly closing, we are doing everything in our power to keep that window wide open so that the warm breeze of positive change can sweep across the nation.
In fact, we announced recently at the Committee on House Administrations second hearing on election reform that we intend to produce bipartisan legislation that we can take to the House floor later this year for a vote.
Our purpose in doing so is decidedly nonpartisan: We must work together to help remedy the voting inefficiencies that continue to face our election system, and thereby restore public confidence in our election process. The status quo is simply not acceptable, particularly in the worlds greatest democracy.
At our first committee hearing in April, we were especially heartened by the absence of partisan acrimony. Instead, what we heard from our witnesses was a bipartisan chorus for change. And as Congress considers numerous legislative proposals, we believe that a broad consensus has developed around at least four general principles that should guide us in crafting an appropriate response.
First, punch-card voting systems must go. Introduced in 1964, punch cards are still the most common method of voting in the United States today, with about one-third of all voters using them. They are relatively cheap and can accommodate longer ballots. However, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last 40 years, and more reliable voting methods are available. Punch cards have the potential for a much higher rate of error than other voting systems. As a result, the public has lost confidence in their accuracy. Therefore, with few exceptions, we should work expeditiously to help state and local election officials get rid of punch-card voting systems.
For example, in Fulton County, Ga., the spoilage rate for punch cards last November was 6.25 percent, or one out of every 16 ballots. In Cook County, Ill., it was 5 percent. And in Florida the statewide spoilage rate was 3.93 percent, according to Floridas bipartisan Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology. By comparison, the spoilage rate in Florida for optical scan machines where votes were tabulated in the precinct was 0.83 percent.
To their credit, Florida policy-makers have taken the lead in addressing these important improvements and changes to the election system. The state legislature passed a sweeping election reform measure two weeks ago that, among other things, would ban punch cards and require counties to purchase or lease electronic or optical scan equipment to be used in each precinct by 2002. The legislation, which was signed into law last week by Gov. Jeb Bush, also provides funding for replacement equipment. Congress should follow Floridas lead and work expeditiously on a bipartisan basis.
The second principle that should guide us goes hand in glove with the first: The federal government should help states and localities replace unreliable and outdated voting technologies such as punch cards. In short, that means some sort of federal financial assistance. As Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell remarked at our first committee hearing: "While election reform continues to have widespread public support, the resources to implement these costly upgrades are few or nonexistent. assistance will be welcomed by, as well as absolutely necessary to, states and localities embarking on election reform."
Our third principle is perhaps less obvious but equally compelling: The federal government must not try to mandate solutions. States and localities historically have administered elections. They have expertise and practical experience, and our goal is to keep it that way.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that federal elections are a daunting undertaking. They involve thousands of volunteers recruited for the day to work at some 200,000 polling places in more than 3,000 counties on five different types of technology. The federal government, rather than issuing mandates, should work with states and localities to ensure the integrity of the process. We should not and will not create a one-size-fits-all solution to local election challenges.
The fourth general principle that will guide us is an explicit recognition that real reform requires more than just a mechanical fix. The federal government can encourage and assist states and local jurisdictions by helping provide voter education, poll worker training, and research and development grants for technology improvements.
As we have learned, our election system requires constant maintenance and vigilance. Error and fraud have occurred throughout our history in varying degrees. Therefore, we have a responsibility and a unique opportunity to improve our system of government.
We have the technological know-how and we undoubtedly have the publics strong support. Separate polls by two think-tanks and the U.S.C.-Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics which found that Americans overwhelmingly support election reform confirm that.
Our charge now in Congress is to answer the call for common sense election reform with bipartisan action. Our nation and its citizens should expect no less.

Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, is chairman of the Committee on House Administration, which has jurisdiction over federal election issues. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, is ranking Democrat on the committee.


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