- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

Congressional negotiators yesterday agreed on a reform bill designed to correct flaws highlighted in the 2000 election and establish minimal standards for how states run elections.
Several negotiators called it the first civil rights legislation of the 21st century, and said it may be the biggest civil rights bill since the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
"Almost two years after the election problems of November 2000, we now have an agreement on a powerful bill that will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, the chief proponent of including strict anti-fraud provisions in the compromise bill.
The bill, which has the support of leaders of both parties, is expected to pass overwhelmingly before Congress adjourns next week. House and Senate conferees ended months of deadlock and reached a deal early yesterday, and finalized details at 10 a.m., two hours before they briefed reporters.
The legislation firmly establishes the federal government's role in providing for smooth elections, and bestows significant power on state officials to conduct elections and settle disputes. It would:
Authorize spending $3.9 billion over three years to help states improve voting systems, including $325 million set aside for a voluntary program to buy out punch-card and lever voting machines.
Establish a state grievance procedure for voters to report election law violations, and gives the Justice Department the right to sue states to enforce voting requirements.
Require states to provide a way for voters to check their ballots and correct any errors, and tell states to allow provisional voting, which would let a voter whose name isn't on the rolls vote on a temporary ballot that officials would then accept after confirming the voter is properly registered.
cRequire first-time voters to prove their identification, either through a photo ID, a printed form with their name and address or by a state-issued identification number.
cMake each voting place provide at least one voting machine accessible to the disabled. The bill includes $100 million to improve disability access.
Require states by 2006 to build a statewide registration database to cut down on fraudulent or outdated registrations and to facilitate provisional voting.
"The headline is that the federal government is striding onto the field, with money, but the lasting effect is states will have much more authority for elections than they have in the past," said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, which has been following the bill's progress.
He pointed to Florida's experience in 2000, when election officials in each county decided how many corners of a chad had to be dislodged for a vote to be counted. Under the new law, states would be required to set a standard for what constitutes a valid vote.
The bill would establish a national commission to act as a clearinghouse for information and experiences of voters at polling booths. But the commission would not have rule-making authority because some lawmakers feared that would infringe on state officials' prerogatives.
Congressional Black Caucus leaders, who had been pushing for a deal on the bill, praised it as an imperfect but solid compromise measure.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat and one of the chief House negotiators, said Congress must still appropriate money for the bill or risk creating an unfunded mandate on the states.
Congress is in an appropriations impasse and appears unlikely to pass the 13 annual spending bills, which means neither the $400 million the House requested in the Treasury and Postal Operations bill, or the $200 million the Senate included in its version, are likely to pass.

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