Stateline Story

Carter-Ford Election Commission Softens Its Tone

  • August 01, 2001
  • By Daniel Seligson
In its eagerly awaited report on how to improve U.S. voting procedures, the National Commission on Federal Election Reform calls for an overhaul of registration and recount practices, but stops far short of recommending the kind of systemic overhaul that some of its leaders initially favored.

The group favors state-by-state election reform instead of a larger role for the federal government. The only "federal" election reforms it proposes are making election day a national holiday and asking the networks to refrain from reporting any election results until polls close on the West Coast.

Former President Jimmy Carter unveiled the commission's recommendations at the White House Tuesday (7/31) along with President George W. Bush.

Carter, who in March slammed the U.S. elections for failing to have uniformity in machines, recounts and vote-counting standards, said the commission unanimously opted to preserve the historic role of states and local governments as the administrators of the country's elections.

"We do recognize the importance of the states," Carter said.

The 20 commissioners who came up with the recommendations were gleaned from politics, law and academia. In their 100-page report, they call for states to adopt master registration lists and uniform statewide standards for vote counting and recounting.

They also called for states to strive for a 2 percent error rate for voting machines and use technology that alerts voters to mistakes on their ballots.

Reactions to the report were largely positive. Bush called the report "impressive" and said he would recommend that Congress adopt the key elements.

"The federal government can have a limited but responsible role in elections to enforce the laws and protect ethnic and racial minorities. It should also uphold the voting rights of members of the armed services and safeguard absentee ballots against abuse," Bush said.

The commission urged the federal government to offer states an estimated $320 million a year in matching grants over the next five years to upgrade their election or voter registration systems.

Congress will consider a number of election reform bills in coming months, beginning with legislation by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. The Senate Rules Committee, which Dodd chairs, is scheduled to mark-up the legislation on Thursday (8/2). It calls for states to adhere to minimum standards for machines and poll access or face stiff federal penalties.

Jim Forbes, a spokesman for the majority side of the House Administration Committee which is now considering reform legislation as well, said the report would "go hand-in-hand" with the legislation now before that panel.