Friday, November 16, 2001

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said the House could vote on election reform before the end of the year, giving momentum to a bipartisan bill that unanimously passed the House Administration Committee yesterday.

The bill sets minimum voting standards for states by requiring them to certify that they comply with federal voting laws, but doesn’t dictate exactly what to do. It also would authorize two funds $400 million set aside specifically to buy punch-card voting machines and $2.25 billion to help states train election workers, make voting more accessible, buy new equipment and improve registration.

“Improving our elections standards should not be a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats nationwide, and here in this Congress, agree on the necessity of ensuring that all citizens who wish to vote can, and that their votes are counted accurately,” said committee Chairman Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, who is chief sponsor of the bill along with Rep. Steny H. Hoyer from Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Mr. Hastert said yesterday the House can complete action on the bill soon.

“We have good bipartisan support on that and hope to move that as quickly as possible,” the Illinois Republican said. “And the quicker that we can move it, the quicker we can start to make the preparations [so] that people can be assured of good, sound elections.”

Support for reform grew after the 2000 presidential election in which Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore dueled for 36 days over questionable ballots in Florida. A U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively ended a partial recount of ballots, delivering the state’s votes in the Electoral College and thus the election to Mr. Bush.

The bill sets up a commission to make recommendations about voting standards, requires states to permit provisional voting for those who say they are registered but whose names are not on the rolls, and requires states to count absentee ballots even if they won’t necessarily make a difference in an election’s outcome.

The board of the National Association of Secretaries of State, the state officials who oversee elections, have unanimously endorsed the plan because it doesn’t impose a “one size fits all” solution, a spokeswoman said.

But the bill is opposed by a host of groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, People for the American Way, the AFL-CIO and the League of Women Voters, who want to see stricter federal regulations and more teeth to force states to comply.

Some groups worry that the bill, in an effort to clean voter rolls, could cause some legitimate potential voters to be dropped from the rolls, while others say it doesn’t go far enough to give disabled voters ballot and poll access.

Mr. Hoyer said he agrees with some of the criticism, but that the House compromise is nonetheless good.

“While this legislation is not perfect, it offers this distinct advantage it has a realistic chance of passing this House and becoming law in time to avert another election nightmare one year from now,” Mr. Hoyer said.

The House committee vote contrasted with the bill that passed out of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee in August, when Republicans boycotted the meeting. They charged that committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, was pushing through his own version without giving consideration to a Republican plan.

Senators still are struggling to come up with a revised bipartisan version. Mr. Dodd and Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, were negotiating with Republicans Mitch McConnell from Kentucky and Christopher S. Bond from Missouri last night.

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