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Commission Presents US Election Reform Recommendations - 2001-08-03

A bipartisan commission headed by former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford have presented their recommendations for reforming the U.S. election system to President Bush. But, there is little expectation that Congress will be able to agree on any significant changes anytime soon.

Nine months after the disputed presidential election that put George W. Bush in the White House, a special commission on election reform is offering proposals aimed at avoiding a repeat of the confusion and uncertainty stemming from last November's election problems in Florida.

Several commission members, led by former President Carter, went to the White House to urge President Bush and the Congress to make available up to $2 billion to improve voting machinery around the country.

Mr. Carter also said the various states need to do more to ensure that voters are properly registered and their votes properly counted. "Each state should devise a uniform voter registration system and enforce it," he said. "Now, this is done by individual counties - there are more than 4,000 of them - and this creates a great deal of confusion."

Other proposals include making Election Day a national holiday and trying to get the television networks to hold off projecting a presidential winner until all the polls close across the country.

President Bush accepted the report but also said he would oppose efforts in the Congress to have the federal government mandate voting procedures in the states, something the individual states have traditionally done themselves. "Our nation is vast and diverse and our elections should not be run out of Washington, D.C.," the president said.

Political analysts say the commission recommendations are a good starting point for election reform. Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of an independent political newsletter in Washington, says "I think the centerpiece of the commission's proposal is that the federal government allocate $1-$2 billion to fund improvements of voting machines and machine operations as well as urging states to modernize and standardize election procedures."

But Mr. Rothenberg also says that the stage is now set for a political stalemate in the Congress over implementing some of the specific reform proposals. "The problem is that there is no great momentum now for election reform," he said. "You have the House [of Representatives] controlled by one party, the Senate controlled by another. One group, liberals, want mandates by the federal government requiring the states to act a certain way. Another group, Republicans, are philosophically opposed to that. So I think it is going to be very difficult to get a lot of this done."

Democrats who support reform are also expected to push the idea of provisional voting - allowing someone to vote even if there is a question at the polling place as to whether a person is properly registered or eligible to vote. Democrats say the vote should be allowed on a special ballot that would be counted only if election officials were able to verify the voter's qualifications. Republicans see this proposal as an invitation to voter abuse and oppose it.

Congress is not expected to begin a serious debate about election reform until September at the earliest.