- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

While the U.S. Senate still struggled with election reform, Indiana yesterday joined the handful of states that already had enacted significant overhauls of their voting procedures.
Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon signed the reform bill into law. For Sue Anne Gilroy, Indiana's secretary of state, that law and another enacted last year were the culmination of 16 months of work since the 2000 presidential election and hanging chads stirred public ire over voting procedures and equipment.
"It was then I vowed this should never, ever happen again in this country, and I'll make certain nothing like this happens in Indiana," said Mrs. Gilroy, a Republican serving her second term. Together with Mr. O'Bannon, a Democrat, she formed a bipartisan task force to lead the way.
Last year's law addressed structural problems in Indiana: It dedicated $9 million to help counties buy out antiquated voting machines particularly punch-card machines and create a statewide computerized voting list to help registrars clean up their rolls. About 20 percent of the 4 million names on the voting list are bogus, Mrs. Gilroy said.
The latest legislation establishes a way for military members serving overseas to fax in their ballots; sets up a provisional voting system; and allows any eligible voter to go to a registrar's office and cast a ballot up to a month before an election.
Harriet A. Wilkins with the Indiana League of Women Voters said the most important part of Indiana's law was creating the central registration list because it would help clean the voting rolls of those who had moved and would facilitate provisional voting.
In provisional voting, those whose names were missing from the election list would vote by separate ballot, and elections officials would investigate to see if the voter was indeed registered.
Out of all the proposals, Mrs. Gilroy said, she heard the most criticism over a proposal to let 16-year-olds work at the polls "from poll workers who have worked for years saying, 'They do nothing but eat all our food,' to a sense that the young people wouldn't hang in there." They compromised by stipulating that the student poll workers hold at least a 3.0 grade point average and have the approval of their school principals and parents.
Only a handful of states have passed substantial election reform measures since 2000. Indiana, Florida, Georgia and Maryland have done the most.
Bills making their way through the U.S. House and Senate would ask states to make many of the same reforms. The bills would require states to allow provisional balloting and would establish a fund to help states and localities upgrade election machines.
The House passed its bill in December, but the Senate bill has stalled over concerns about anti-fraud provisions. Republicans wanted to require those who register by mail to show acceptable identification before voting the first time, but Democrats said that could deter voting and hurt mail-in balloting in Oregon and Washington.
The two sides announced late last week they had worked out a deal carving out an exception for voting by mail.
The National Association of Secretaries of State endorsed the House bill and expressed support for the Senate's process, but stopped short of endorsing the Senate bill. Mrs. Gilroy and other secretaries said they liked the House's approach of setting goals for states more than the Senate's approach of setting goals and then dictating how states must meet them.
But, Mrs. Gilroy said, most of all they like the federal monetary support $3.5 billion in the Senate bill, $2.65 billion in the House bill.
Because of that, she said, the worst thing would be for Congress to do nothing: "I think that would be a very poor message by election officials and elected officials to the voters."


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