Senate holds hearings on improving election system

Wednesday, March 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Correcting the election system flaws made evident by the Florida presidential vote may take billions of dollars and an updating of fundamental voter rights laws, advocates of change say.

Wednesday, they bring their ideas before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee which begins two days of hearings on how to avoid a repeat of the 2000 presidential election, where thousands of Florida voters say faulty machines or voting procedures cost them a say in the closest election in modern times.

On Tuesday Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the committee, joined Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in proposing a $3.5 billion plan to help states adopt uniform standards for voting machines by 2004.

Dodd said his bill would also bring about needed improvements to the 1965 Voting Rights Act that sought to ensure that blacks would have equal access to voting booths and public office.

``This is about fundamental rights. It's not just about fixing technology or building a better mousetrap,'' he said.

The Dodd-Conyers bill, backed by the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and the Hispanic advocacy group the National Council of La Raza, would also set up a commission to determine how best to improve access for the disabled and others who face obstacles in casting their ballots. It would allow ``provisional voting'' to prevent the preclusion of voters who can later show they were denied the opportunity to vote despite being properly registered.

That bill is competing against numerous other proposals to modernize the election system that sprung up after the 2000 election crisis.

Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., are backing a bill that would establish a commission to develop new methods for voting and administering elections and provide $2.5 billion to states for new voting systems.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, want to develop voluntary standards to ensure greater voting accuracy, strengthen voter education and provide matching grants for states to upgrade machines.

Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., is leading a bipartisan effort behind a three-year $1.5 billion bill to help states modernize their election systems.

In the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has proposed setting up a special commission to examine ways to ensure more accurate and equitable elections. Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, however, has objected to Hastert's proposal that Republicans have a one-member majority on the panel.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Tuesday that he thought election reform was important, but ``I don't know that I'm prepared to say the federal government should start dictating to states (how to do elections).''