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Panel outlines election reforms

By JOHN BALZ

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 10, 2001


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a series of recommendations Friday calling for national election standards and provisional ballots but did not say how much money the federal government should spend to enact the changes.

The push for election reform, which nearly came to a halt after the Sept. 11 attacks, appears to be slowly moving again. After months of squabbles, House Administration Committee leaders reached a compromise Thursday to help states update voting equipment and procedures.

The chairwoman of the Commission on Civil Rights, Mary Frances Berry, said she thinks Congress will pass legislation before the 2002 elections.

"We still believe that election reform is absolutely essential," Berry said.

The commission also cited Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, saying she did not act responsibly in her role as the state's chief election official in last year's presidential election.

Harris was co-chair of Republican George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Florida.

Vice Chair Cruz Reynoso said Harris failed to separate her public role from her political activities.

Berry and her colleagues want the Federal Election Commission, with state input, to create a set of minimum and mandatory standards for equipment, absentee ballots, provisional ballots, voter registration and recounts. Other organizations, particularly those composed of local election officials, want states to continue setting ballot standards.

Provisional ballots are special ballots given to voters who wish to contest their exclusion from voter registration lists, or who have recently changed addresses.

The ballots, currently used in 19 states, allow voters who are improperly disqualified on Election Day to cast votes that can be counted later.

The commission's report also calls for the strict enforcement of current voting rights laws.

The 18 recommendations do not go into detail about the best new voting technologies or how to conduct elections. Instead, they focus on how to ensure that voting rights can be better protected.

Competing congressional proposals call for $500-million and $2.5-billion, respectively, to pay for the additional poll workers, new machines and voter education that will accompany any election system reforms. But the commission only said that "sufficient funding must be provided."

-- Information from Cox News Service was used in this report.

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