- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

The Commission on Federal Election Reform met yesterday to consider improvements to the United States’ electoral system, but some activists and election officials are questioning whether such a move is necessary.

At least one member of the commission indicated that further changes would be premature until the effects of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a comprehensive election-reform bill passed in 2002, are known.

“I, for one, believe that we must focus on the goal of full implementation of HAVA before we move forward with further changes,” said former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

At yesterday’s daylong hearing, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, three panels examined the areas of election law, administration and voting-machine technology.

Mr. Carter was influential in the passage of HAVA. From 2001 to 2002, he and former President Gerald Ford chaired a 16-member election-reform commission, sponsored by the Century Foundation, which recommended that legislation.

The new election commission, sponsored by American University, will seek further recommended changes — a move that has angered some state elections officials, who are wondering whether there will be an end to private think-tank commissions on voting.

“The single greatest fear of the states at this point is an expanded federal role … micromanagement of state-run elections,” said Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, a panelist and former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Mr. Thornburgh said HAVA is working and should be allowed to succeed, but Mr. Carter and Mr. Baker said improvements must continue.

“I am concerned about the state of our election system … we will try to define an electoral system for the 21st century that will make America proud again,” Mr. Carter said.

Election Assistance Commission Vice Chairman Gracia M. Hillman said outside of the work of HAVA and the commissions, there is only one key issue that should be looked at.

“Forty percent of Americans have chosen for many years not to vote,” she said. “We can look at fraud, the process and everything else, but the question remains: What has led up to the lack of trust in the voting process?”

Most of the panelists’ recommendations would not affect HAVA. Recommendations yesterday included reauthorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the creation of a national identification card, a hot-button issue in immigration politics.

Congress is considering legislation that would mandate that states adopt federal standards for driver’s licenses and other forms of identification. Residents of states that opt out would not be allowed to access federal property, nor to board airplanes and trains.

Some panelists did offer recommendations for a voter-ID card with biometric indicators, but Wall Street Journal editorial board member and author John Fund said that would be disastrous.

“It would create a wrenching national debate and take focus away from the real issues,” said Mr. Fund, author of the recent book “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens our Democracy.”

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