Bills Would Alter Election Procedures

Democrats' measure would make sweeping changes in the national voting process to ease task of balloting. A GOP version focuses on fraud.

February 18, 2005|Mary Curtius and Richard Simon | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Sen. John F. Kerry, whose losing presidential campaign last year was followed by complaints of voting problems, on Thursday joined fellow Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- a potential presidential candidate herself -- in introducing a bill that would institute sweeping changes in the nation's election process.

Aligned with Kerry, of Massachusetts, and Clinton, of New York, were Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio). Boxer and Tubbs Jones earlier this year challenged the congressional certification of President Bush's victory in November to call attention to voting problems in Ohio, the state that decided the election.

The bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Congress.

But its drafting -- along with a measure introduced by GOP lawmakers on Thursday -- underscored continuing concern within both parties about voting irregularities.

The Democratic bill seeks to make it easier for citizens to cast ballots.

It would give voters the right to register and vote on election day, make the day a federal holiday and require states to reduce waiting times at polling places. (In California, voters must register at least 15 days before an election to be able to cast a ballot; voters who become citizens after the deadline can register up to seven days before the election.)

The Republican bill would require voters to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot, illustrating GOP concerns about voting fraud.

Another provision in the GOP bill would establish a pilot program for the use of indelible ink at polling places -- an idea growing out of the ink-stained index fingers displayed by Iraqis in their election last month.

"Aside from being an act of national pride, it was also an act to ensure that all those who voted did so only once," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the bill's co-sponsor.

For many Democrats, election procedures remained a big issue in the shadow of the 2000 presidential race -- that was decided after a contentious 36-day recount battle in Florida -- and the 2004 vote.

Senate Democrats listed election reform as one of the top 10 priorities in the 109th Congress. Kerry last month sent an e-mail to supporters urging them to "demand that Congress commit itself this year" to reforming the electoral system.

Kerry insisted Thursday that the bill he and his fellow Democrats were pushing was not sparked by his narrow loss in November.

"This has nothing to do with the question of outcome of 2004. This has everything to do with full civil rights for Americans, period," Kerry said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

The legislation, he said, "is not partisan, or shouldn't be. It is at the core of who we are as Americans."

The Count Every Vote Act would require a paper ballot for every vote cast using an electronic voting machine. It would require states where "a substantial number" of voters waited more than 90 minutes in last year's election to cast ballots to come up with a plan to reduce waits.

It would require random recounts after an election, and allow felons to vote if they have completed their sentences. And it would provide for studying use of the Internet for voter registration.

Clinton said her interest in the bill stemmed from her belief that there were widespread irregularities in the 2004 election. "We cannot take democracy at home for granted while we try to talk about and promote democracy abroad," she said.

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