Two new reports alternately praise and chastise states for their election practices while offering vastly different proposals for how to best reform voting practices in this country.
The first, a report entitled "Voting in America," by the National Conference of State Legislature's Election Reform Task Force, outlines best voting practices in states, including clear and coherent recount standards and registration practices as well as voter education and machines.
Released at the NCSL's annual conference in San Antonio on August 14, the report calls on Congress to leave the fundamental administration of elections in the hands of states. It also calls for statewide voter registration databases, uniform procedures for recounts, no-excuse absentee voting and uniform standard for machine accuracy, ballot designs and counting.
The 31-member task force notes that more than 1,700 election reform bills were introduced in the states and 241 were signed into law.
Alfred Speer, a task force member who also serves as chief clerk of the Louisiana House, said states "have done a fairly good job of correcting mistakes and trying to make things better."
State lawmakers, however, have denounced federal mandates that they say would lead to dysfunctional "one-size-fits-all approach" elections.
A second report by Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee says election dysfunction demands a national response and highlights the need for federal mandates on voting.
The report claims 38 states have recount standards and procedures that "would likely fail constitutional scrutiny under Bush V. Gore."
The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., is sponsoring legislation in the House that would establish federal mandates for voting machines and provide five years of funding to states for equipment purchases. An identical bill passed the Senate in late July, but without any Republican support.
The report decries a "national epidemic of disappearing votes" and urges Congress to act swiftly to enact standards. Conyers, along with Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., in the Senate, are Capitol Hill's strongest proponents of a federal election system they say would ensure civil rights.
"The states are simply not acting quickly enough to repair our election systems prior to the 2002 and 2004 elections," it states. "If voting rights were left to the option of the states over the past four decades, as some would suggest we approach voting reform today, there can be little doubt that millions of Americans would still be subjected to poll taxes and literacy tests."
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