By a 99-1 vote, the U.S. Senate passed a sweeping electoral reform bill aimed at preventing a repeat of the disputed 2000 U.S. presidential election.
The bill calls for upgrading voting equipment and registration procedures, and implementing new national election standards that would, among other things, check contested ballots before they are counted.
The $3.5 billion measure represents one of the largest overhauls of the electoral system in U.S. history.
"This is the first time that I know of that we have up and written a check and said by the way here are some national standards we want to have in place in the conduct of federal elections that every jurisdiction will live with," said Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, a Democratic sponsor of the bill. "That is historic in that for 200 years, we have basically said 'however you want to run elections in the states, you just go ahead and do it.' I think we are saying here 'that's true, but we feel we have a legitimate national interest in having some national standards here, and we are willing to pay for it to see that it gets done."
The measure is aimed at preventing the voting irregularities in Florida that marred the 2000 election between George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore. The balloting problems postponed a decision in the contest more than a month after Election Day.
Since then, electoral reform has been a top legislative priority in Congress.
Republican sponsor Mitch McConnell of Kentucky emphasizes the bill is a step forward for U.S. democracy. "This is a landmark piece of legislation of extreme significance that we are all intensely proud of having been able to put together over the period of the last year," he said.
The House passed similar legislation last year, and differences between the two bills must be reconciled by a joint conference committee before final legislation is sent to President Bush for his signature.