Thursday, February 10, 2005

Congress should not introduce new legislation to improve the elections process or change the Help America Vote Act, the chairman of the Committee on House Administration said yesterday.

Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, said that despite rumors and conjecture about problems in the 2004 election cycle, the process was, for the most part, fair and successful. Mr. Ney said Congress now must wait to see results and study HAVA’s effectiveness in 2004 again when it is fully implemented and all states reach full compliance next year.

“All of this is not to suggest that the 2004 election was completely problem-free … there were problems,” Mr. Ney said.

The HAVA was passed in 2002 in response to the extended Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election, which brought attention to paper ballots and other voting problems.

In last year’s election, one of the problems that prevented voters from casting ballots was inadequate numbers of voting machines to handle increased turnout, which led to abnormally long lines in some communities.

“I am angry and disturbed that folks would have to wait 10 hours in this democracy and still be turned away,” said Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, California Democrat, referring to reports of irregularities in Ohio.

Mr. Ney and Mrs. Millender-McDonald, her party’s new ranking member on the committee, held a hearing yesterday to seek solutions to some of the problems and examine best practices with the four-member Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

The committee also invited six secretaries of state to share their perspectives on voting issues, but two secretaries, J. Kenneth Blackwell of Ohio and Glenda E. Hood of Florida — the two states where the largest number of irregularities were reported — did not attend the hearing.

“That the secretaries do not appear at this hearing is an affront to the people who voted them into office,” Mrs. Millender-McDonald said.

“I think the secretaries should be here. … We can have disagreements, but you can’t run and hide, and I have no problem going to them,” Mr. Ney said.

Mr. Blackwell, a Republican, was in Washington yesterday to chair a meeting of the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan group that evaluates campaign-finance issues. Mrs. Hood, also a Republican, was giving a keynote address yesterday to the British-American Chamber of Commerce in Florida

Gracia Hillman, EAC chairman, said provisional balloting was the biggest problem in the 2004 election. “Provisional voting became this year what was the hanging chad in 2000,” she said.

Provisional voting occurs when a person whose name does not appear on a precinct’s list of registered voters is allowed to cast a ballot, which is set aside for later verification.

Last year was the first election in which all 50 states were required to provide provisional ballots, and 1,502,730 were issued, Mrs. Hillman said. More than 400,000 such ballots were left uncounted because the verification process determined the voter either was not registered or was otherwise ineligible.

In only a few instances, said EAC Commissioner Paul DeGregorio, were mistakes made in which an eligible voter’s provisional ballot was not counted.

The EAC has distributed $2.2 billion to the states to help them reach compliance, but the new organization was not fully funded with a budget of $3 billion last year.

“When we sat down, we agreed that $3.9 billion would be fully funded and we didn’t. That is our fault, and we have to find a way to get that $900 million,” Mr. Ney said.

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