Georgia did not make headlines during the 2000 presidential election. But if its voting systems and polling place practices had endured the same media and legal examination as Florida, it would have fared no better or perhaps even worse.
That's the opinion of Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, who Wednesday (3/7) appeared before the US Senate Committee on Commerce , Science and Transportation. Cox said she was both grateful and alarmed after the 2000 election. Grateful that President Bush's margin of victory exceeded the margin of error at the polls and alarmed that the Peach State showed all of the same symptoms of election dysfunction as Florida.
Hanging chads, voters turned away from polls, uninformed poll workers, high rates of spoiled ballots and antiquated and inaccurate voting were all seen in Georgia, a post-election study found.
"We know very well that, yes, it could happen in Georgia," Cox said. "And the odds are that sometime, perhaps sometime very soon, it will happen in my home state unless steps are taken now that upgrade our equipment and procedures."
Congress will consider more than 30 election reform bills in the coming months. State lawmakers have introduced more than 1,200. Just as most counties and cities have their own methods of conducting elections, every group that testified at the Commerce Committee hearing offered their own view on what needed to be done.
Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh offered a note of caution.
"Our system did provide for the orderly transfer of power contemplated by our Constitution," Thornburgh said. "The November election may not have been pretty, and the results may not have come quickly, but quick fixes and convenience are not the measure of democracy."
There was strong disagreement from Rep. Connie Meek, D-Fla., whose district encompasses some of south Florida's election hotspots.
Meek said preventing another "catastrophe" will be this Congress' most vital work. Without it, she said, the nation's minority population will lose all faith in the democratic process.
"Our serious, desperate pleas about the disenfranchisement of our citizens, and the disqualification of our ballots, and the violations of election laws were ignored, delayed, denied and dismissed as mere irregularities, and in many cases, trivialized or reduced to jokes," Meek said. "It is a failure of government and our electoral system when courts, the laws and government officials do not do everything possible to insure that every vote is counted."
Others who testified reflected the varied interests of their constituencies:
"Barriers continue to prevent qualified people with disabilities from voting," Bollinger said. "All too often, people with disabilities are told that they should vote by absentee ballot or at the curb. Absentee ballots are not an adequate substitute for actually going to the polls, particularly when the voter is in the jurisdiction on Election Day."