Stateline Story

Tracking Election Reform: Congress Probes Fraud

  • May 11, 2001
  • By Daniel Seligson

In St. Louis, dead dogs vote.

That was only one of the many findings contained in a report by Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., who presented a tome entitled "St. Louis Voter Fraud: A Primer" at what was the most contentious congressional hearing on election reform to date.

Bond's two-inch thick compilation of press reports, court testimonies, registration records and affidavits released Thursday (5/3), offered opponents of the 1993 Motor Voter Law and lax registration procedures powerful proof that signing up voters needs to be more stringent. The report found dead people, dogs and even dead dogs on voter rolls that exceeded the voting age population in the city.

"At a minimum, states need to be given the authority to require on the mail registration form a place for notarization or other form of identification," Bond said. "Under current federal law, states are actually prohibited from including this safeguard. This is one obvious place where the federal law is a clear impediment to anti-fraud efforts."

But, as the Senate Governmental Reform Committee heard a few minutes later from another Missouri lawmaker, opinion on what's wrong in St. Louis vary.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., a St. Louis Democrat who followed Bond in the hearing, placed the blame for the city's voting ills squarely upon machines, rolls and officials.

"St. Louis exposed a voting system that is riddled with election procedural mistakes; major deficiencies in poll worker training; obsolete and inadequate equipment and gross errors in maintaining accurate voter rolls that resulted in the disenfranchisement of thousands of qualified voters in my district," Clay said.

Election reform efforts have advanced in Congress despite being under the shadow of budget negotiations. The House Administration Committee, which recently hired a staff member er to work on the issue full-time, held a hearing Thursday. The Senate held more two hearings following the release of the Bond report.

Congressional staffers involved in the process say momentum for federal legislation appears to be building.

Roman Buhler, counsel for the House committee, told a National Conference of State Legislatures task force Wednesday (5/9) that there's "a substantial possibility that by Oct. 1, you will see some action."

In other election reform news:

  • Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed legislation overhauling the state's voting into law on Wednesday (5/9). The state will spend $32 million upgrading voting machines for the dozens of counties that used punch cards. Counties will also receive state funds for poll worker training and voter education.
  • Palm Beach County's reviled punch card machines and butterfly ballots made headlines in November. Now even replicas are making a killing in online auctions. While Palm Beach County announced it would be selling the historic machines on the online auction house Ebay, an Ohio firm has already been fetching high bids for the "Votomatic Punchcard Vote Recorder to create your own dimpled, hanging, or pregnant CHAD!" Collectors might want to wait for the real thing. The fine print notes the machines, though used in actual elections, are not from Palm Beach and the included butterfly ballots are replicas. The machines still fetch between $250 and $500. Real machines cost Palm Beach County about $150, the Associated Press reported.
  • A city council election Dallas showed tiny flaws in ballots used on optical scan machines can grind vote counting to a halt. The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday (5/8). More than 4,000 ballots cast in the race could not be read because of mistakes in timing marks that calibrate the papers so they can be property tabulated. The city told the newspaper it would bill the company for the $5000 it paid election officials to work overtime to count the questioned ballots.