Stateline Story

Survey Finds No Consensus on Election Reform

  • October 22, 2001
  • By Daniel Seligson

A survey of election reform in the states, courts and Congress has found while the drive for election reform continues, any real consensus of how to repair voting has yet to form.

The report, released Monday (10/22) by the Election Reform Information Project, reports that a groundswell for reform still exists. But the accomplishments so far have not met the calls change.

"We found that not a lot has been achieved in terms of results, but that doesn't mean that nothing has happened at the state and local level," said Doug Chapin, director of the Project. "As we noted in the report, the problem is not a lack of commitment or interest in the issue, but rather a lack of consensus about how to proceed."

The survey was prepared in collaboration with the Pew Center on the States and staff writers and editors of its online publication, Stateline.org. The Project, like PCS and Stateline, is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of Richmond.

Reasons for inaction varied from partisan politics in Congress to declining funds in state treasuries.

Examples cited in the report include:

  • Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon freezing $9 million earmarked for the purchase of a statewide voter registration system and a new fund for localities in the state to buy upgraded voting machines;
  • Georgia lawmakers passing legislation requiring a uniform, statewide voting system, but failing to include any funding for the effort, and;
  • a bill sending California voters to the polls next year to decide on a $200 million bond issue that would fund the purchase of new machines to replace punch card systems.

In Congress, efforts to enact reform have thus far been stifled by partisanship. But the report notes that negotiations in the House and Senate between Democrats and Republicans could produce bipartisan legislation within a matter of weeks.

Leaders from both parties have disagreed on what should be included in election reform legislation, with a number Republicans favoring flexible federal grants for states and strict new anti-fraud laws and Democrats favoring federal standards for the accuracy of voting machines and a more limited scope of spending for states receiving government money.

The report noted that while Florida, Maryland and Georgia have made sweeping reforms including complete overhauls of voting equipment statewide a number of states have also enacted laws or approved rules that will seek to avoid the post-election mess in the Sunshine State.

Ohio, Nevada, Tennessee and Virginia passed bills that define what constitutes a vote on a punch card ballot; Colorado, Kansas and Washington clarified rules for recounts; and legislators in Iowa and Oregon appropriated money for the creation of a statewide voter registration database.

Despite the actions by legislatures, momentum for election reform has clearly dissipated since the early days of the Bush presidency, but not because of a lack of interest, the report notes.

"It would appear," it states, "that the current obstacle to election reform is not a lack of commitment, but a lack of consensus."