Democrats announce new institute for election reforms

Tuesday, May 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democrats are creating a voting rights institute to examine voting practices and encourage an overhaul of election laws _ an issue certain to be central to their campaign efforts in the coming years.

``We simply have an elections system that is broken,'' said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Ca., adding that she was finding problems all over the country. Problems in Florida with elections machinery and practices were the most publicized because of the close presidential vote.

Democrats say the new voters' rights institute will hold hearings around the country and suggest steps they say will help protect the rights of citizens to vote.

``The Bush administration and Republicans in Congress have shown a total lack of leadership,'' said Democratic national Chairman Terry McAuliffe at a news conference in front of the Supreme Court.

Congressional Republicans say they are pursuing the problems with the elections system and expect to have legislation addressing the problems later this year.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president has been clear in his support for election reform. ``A national commission is looking at the issues and the president looks forward to seeing the recommendations and working with Congress,'' he said.

``This is by no means a dead issue,'' said Jim Forbes, a spokesman for the House Administration Committee and aide to its chairman, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. ``Voters across the country expect us to do something about this.''

Once the problems have been identified and legislation has been proposed, then money will be found to address the problems, Forbes said in response to Democratic complaints that money has not been proposed to deal with the problem.

Republicans say they are interested in developing a high-integrity voting system, reducing voter fraud and making sure all overseas ballots, military ballots and absentee ballots are counted properly.

Officials with the Democratic National Committee said the new voting rights effort will become a permanent part of national party activities. The DNC will hire about 10 staffers for the institute, twice that during the election season.

The institute will be headed by Maynard Jackson, former mayor of Atlanta and the party's national development chair.

At the Georgia Capitol on Tuesday, Jackson said he accepted the post to challenge ``those who have the audacity to say there's no problem getting the votes counted in America.''

Democrats have been complaining since the 2000 presidential election that some citizens were denied the right to vote, especially in minority neighborhoods. They want to examine the state of elections equipment, voter education and what standards are used on identification needed to vote.

The first Democratic hearing will be held May 7 in Palm Beach County, Fla., which was at the center of voter complaints about the 2000 election. Other regional hearings will be held over the next two months in Newark, N.J.; Detroit; and Albuquerque, N.M.

The institute will come up with a voting rights action plan late this summer after the hearings, said Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the DNC.

McAuliffe said the Democratic Party will ``show leadership on protecting and expanding voting rights at every opportunity.''