Lawmakers Unveil Election Reform Compromise
Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Administration Committee Thursday (11/8) unveiled the framework of a bill that they say could cross partisan lines and provide a powerful and financially generous incentive to reform elections nationwide.
The "Help America Vote Act of 2001," co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the committee's chairman and ranking member, would offer each state millions of dollars to buy new voting machines, create statewide voter registration databases, educate voters, train poll workers and improve access to polling places for people with disabilities.
Ney and Hoyer said the bill represents the best hope to get election reform legislation passed this year or in early 2002 because it enjoys the blessing of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt.
Details of the bill will not be made public until next week.
While more than 30 election reform bills have been introduced in Congress since the Nov. 2000 election, Hoyer said the "Help America Vote Act" offered the best balance of minimum federal standards for elections demanded by most Democrats and block grants to states to use for their specific needs a requirement for most Republicans.
States would receive three-to-one matching federal funds totalling $2.25 billion for all 50 states over three years if they adhere to standards laid out in the bill. All states would have to adhere to certain minimum federal standards, including:
- Creating and/or maintaining a centralized voter registration database;
- Allowing voters who do not appear on registration lists to vote on provisional ballots and have their eligibility checked after they leave the polls;
- Adopting uniform standards for defining what constitutes a vote on every type of voting machine used in the state;
- Ensuring that overseas and absentee voters have their votes counted, and;
- Requiring that any new voting equipment to provide a "practical and effective means" for people with disabilities to cast independent, secret ballots.
The bill will also include a $400 million punch-card machine "buyout" plan that would allow counties and cities to scrap the maligned voting system in time for the 2002 elections.
The Senate is expected to release its own bipartisan legislation sometime next week. The leading bill there, sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., would have the federal government establishing stricter standards than those in the newest House legislation.