Stateline Story

Tracking Election Reform: NAACP To Issue Report Cards

Civil rights leaders impatient with the pace and scope of election reform legislation in state capitals and in Washington have announced they will begin issuing "report cards" to hold officials accountable.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond announced the campaign Monday (7/9) at the organization's annual convention in New Orleans.

"It will help you hold accountability sessions with your governor, legislators and other elected officials to find out what they have done to guarantee every vote is counted in the future," Bond said. "And in the fall, we're going to issue a report card on their progress. We'll see who gets A's' and who gets F's.'"

NAACP leaders have led the charge for a standardized, federal system of voting since the 2000 presidential election. The organization recently backed legislation by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich..

That legislation - unpopular with state officials but a hit with civil and disability rights groups - would establish federal standards for machines and registration procedures.Nearly all state officials want to retain their authority over election administration and have denounced a "one-size-fits-all" national standard for voting.

A report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released in June reported that black voters in Florida were far more likely to have their votes thrown out than white voters. More recent data from the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee indicates the problem of disproportionate numbers of spoiled ballots from poor and high-minority congressional districts is not limited to the Sunshine State.

Bond said after receiving Election Day calls of threats, barriers, inept poll workers and police intimidation, the NAACP also filed a host of lawsuits in Florida and a handful of other states to "ensure that these outrageous events never, ever happen again."

In other election reform news:

  • Legislatures in North Carolina and Tennessee have moved to eliminate or regulate punch card ballots. The North Carolina Senate on Wed. (7/11) voted overwhelmingly to discontinue the use of the infamous ballots in the state by 2006. Unlike Florida, which placed an immediate ban on the use of punch cards and offered counties matching funds to purchase more modern equipment, the eight counties in the Tar Heel State that still use the machines will have to pay to replace them.
  • In Tennessee, the House passed legislation that would establish standards for recounts of punch card ballots in an attempt to avoid what one lawmaker called the "circus" that was Florida last November. If approved by the Senate, the bill would define a "vote" as having two or more corners of the chad detached with light clearly visible through the punched hole.
  • New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed bills that would have required voters to show photo identification to vote and registration officials to demand proof of citizenship, age and residence from new voters. The Manchester Union Leader reported Shaheen said the bills would impinge on voter rights. Republican sponsors of the measures argued the extra precautions would help reduce election fraud.
  • A state task force in Nebraska on Mon. (7/9) started examining the increasing use of absentee ballots and the decreasing popularity of working at the polls on election day. The first of a two-part study it will look at big ticket items such as voting machines and registration system upgrades next year the task force is expected to offer recommendations to the legislature by March 2002.
  • Arizona's top election official on Tues. (7/10) urged Gov. Jane Hull to reconsider a veto of a bill that would fund an upgrade of the state's punch-card voting machines, the Arizona Daily Star reported. Two-thirds of Arizona's counties still use the beleaguered voting system. Secretary of State Betsey Bayless said the machines are less reliable than optical scan systems used in the state's five largest counties. She estimated an upgrade would cost $3.4 million.

The National Council of State Legislature's Election Reform Task Force met in Washington this week (July 9-11) to put the finishing touches on its six-month look into what needs fixing in the nation's voting and more importantly for the group why the federal government should stay out of the election business. Task force leaders Martin Stevens, Utah's Republican Speaker of the House, and Rep. Dan Blue, a Democrat from North Carolina, appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics" to push their group's views on election reform and warn against heavy-handed legislation from Congress that would establish federal mandates for voting. "States have been conducting elections, states are the major administrative units that conduct elections, and we've been doing it for over 200 years, pretty successfully, I might add," Blue said. "To mandate what states ought to do with elections without taking into account the experiences that states have, the different approaches that they can take...is to fly in the face of reality."

The National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State will meet for a weekend conference in Little Rock, Ark. beginning Friday (7/13) to share ideas about best election practices and compare new election reform laws passed in their legislatures over the past seven months.