- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

Senators yesterday overwhelmingly passed a bill seeking to correct problems exposed by the 2000 presidential election by overhauling states' voting machines but also giving them new tools to crack down on voter fraud.

The Senate bill will have to be reconciled with the House bill, which passed last year close to the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that stopped the recount of Florida's punch-card ballots.

Yesterday's vote was 99-1; senators were ecstatic with the strong approval.

"This is the first time I know of we've actually stood up and written a check and said, by the way, here are some national standards we want to have in place in the conduct of federal elections," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and chief patron of the Senate legislation, along with Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

The bill would require states to allow provisional voting letting those who have been left off voting lists to cast temporary ballots that are counted if workers determine the error is with elections officials. It also would require states to create a central computerized registration list, both to help check provisional voting and to help eliminate duplicate registration for the same person.

Senators also reached an agreement on anti-fraud provisions that had threatened to sink the entire bill.

With an exception for Oregon and Washington, both of which have popular vote-by-mail programs, the bill would require those who register by mail to vote to show identification a driver's license or another pre-printed form with their names and addresses before they vote for the first time. Backers say that will reduce the chance for fraud.

"We must make it easier to vote but tougher to cheat," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, who had threatened to hold up the entire bill unless senators agreed to the identification requirement.

Only Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, voted against the bill. Mr. Burns had wanted to amend the bill to allow states to clean up bloated lists of voters who hadn't shown up at the polls in two successive federal elections rather than the four-election requirement currently in place.

The Senate bill requires the states to take certain steps, while the House bill sets minimum standards and leaves it to states to meet them.

The Senate bill authorizes $3.5 billion over five years to encourage states to buy out punch-card voting machines.

The House bill authorizes $2.65 billion over three years for buying out machines and encouraging poll-worker training.

The president requested some funding for election reform in his budget proposal this year and lawmakers said they may even try to get some money set aside in the supplemental appropriation bill, which is pending in the House, so states can begin to act before this year's congressional elections.

After the 2000 elections, a few states including Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Indiana moved to revamp their election systems. But even states that already have acted say the additional federal money is critical.

As the bill goes to conference between the House and Senate, lawmakers said the differences should be relatively easy to work out.

"I don't think we're talking about a Grand Canyon; it's more a ravine," said Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Administration Committee. Mr. Ney and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, were the chief sponsors of the House version of election reform.

Mr. Hoyer said he likes the Senate bill's stronger requirements for states to make polling places accessible to the disabled but said the Senate's I.D. requirement "raises serious civil rights concerns that must be addressed."

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