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Commission Recommends Reforms for US Electoral System

A special U.S. electoral commission has recommended a new national voter registration system with photo identification cards in future elections. The co-chairmen of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, held a news conference to announce their findings.

Noting that 100 democracies around the world make use of identification cards without any fear of infringing on the rights of voters, the commission lists identification cards as one of five key pillars of election reform.

Former President Jimmy Carter says the aim of the commission was to ensure that the voting system has integrity and credibility.

"We have addressed a whole gamut of remaining concerns that American people share to a high degree over the basic integrity of our election system," said Mr. Carter. "We want to have maximum opportunity for everyone in America who is qualified, to vote and to register easily and not to be deprived of that opportunity. We want to make sure there is a uniformity of application of the rules and regulations and laws that apply to the election process."

Mr. Carter says he came to support ID cards after learning of what he calls abominable laws in some states, including his home state of Georgia, that he suggests discriminate against the elderly, poor and African-Americans regarding the right to vote.

He notes 23 other states have some form of photo identification, while eight others are considering it, saying a standardized system would help prevent problems in future elections.

Anyone receiving the proposed new card would be automatically registered, something former Secretary of State Baker says would reduce chances a person could be turned away at polling stations.

Mr. Baker says the commission addressed most of the problems often cited by those who call the American electoral system broken, saying the report should help end the debate over ballot integrity, versus ballot access.

"Every one of the recommendations in our report, whether they are recommendations to the Congress, or recommendations to the states, are designed to improve confidence in our system of federal elections and there is plenty of room for improvement. Having said that, I think we have the best system in the world," said Mr. Baker.

There has already been criticism of the recommendation for universal voter ID cards from members of Congress, as well as dissenting commission members.

John Conyers, a key African-American lawmaker in the House of Representatives, said they would disenfranchise minority voters. He calls the commission recommendation misguided, saying a requirement for a national ID card would be felt mostly by the 10 percent of voters who do not now have a photo ID but are otherwise eligible to vote.

House and Senate Democrats said they would introduce [non-binding] sense of Congress resolutions opposing any new voter ID requirement. There was no immediate reaction to the report from congressional Republicans.

The ability to audit electronic voting machine records was a key issue emerging from the fiercely contested 2000 election pitting now President George W. Bush against former vice president Al Gore.

The Carter-Baker Commission also recommends that paper records be made of all votes cast using electronic voting machines.

"One of the things we are recommending is that there be a backup on paper, which other countries are already doing by the way, it's a simple technological matter [and the state of] Nevada did it this past year, so that there can be some comparison on the part of the voter [who can say] this is the way I touched the screen, did my ballot comply, and they [can] look at the paper ballot," added Mr. Carter.

Democratic Congressman Rush Holt is the sponsor of legislation in Congress proposing paper trails for electronic voting.

"This report, I am pleased to say, elevates the principle of auditability to a fundamental principle of voting that must be upheld," said Mr. Holt.

Key complaints emerging from the 2004 U.S. election involved problems critics say prevented some registered voters from casting ballots, including confusion about voting precincts, and so-called provisional ballots cast by a voter whose name does not appear on the voter rolls.

The commission recommends more consistency in the handling of provisional ballots. And it wants the Help America Vote Act, approved by Congress in 2002 to address electoral system weaknesses, to be fully funded.

The Commission on Federal Election Reform comprised equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, including former government officials, members of Congress, academicians, and journalists.

Former President Carter served on a similar commission, with former President Gerald Ford, after the bitterly contested U.S. presidential election in 2000.