Ford-Carter election-overhaul panel recommends federal holiday for voting
WASHINGTON (AP) – A commission chaired by former Presidents Carter and Ford recommends turning Election Day into a federal holiday and says voters challenged by poll workers should be allowed to cast ballots, their validity to be determined later.
The panel expressed concern about doing away with punchcard ballots, the voting system that sparked much of the controversy in last fall’s Florida election recount, according to a summary obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The National Commission on Federal Election Reform also said states should establish their own systems for voter registration.
The private commission, a project of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, began its work earlier this year after disputes over Florida’s ballots delayed the nation from knowing the winner of last year’s presidential election for 36 days.
The panel’s 100-page report is to be released Tuesday.
According to the summary, eliminating punchcard ballot systems could drive jurisdictions to purchase other voting systems like optical scan machines that might not improve the situation. Optical scan machines are opposed by advocates for the blind and disabled.
”And not all punchcard systems are so bad,” the summary says.
Carter and former House GOP Leader Bob Michel are scheduled to present the commission’s report at the White House to President Bush, who waged a marathon recount campaign against Vice President Al Gore over the disputed Florida results.
The report urges Congress to set up a new Election Administration Commission that would establish voluntary voting system standards and testing for them. The standards should allow voters to correct errors and ensure that disabled voters can cast their ballots in secret.
Federal grants for improving voting systems should be provided to states that meet certain eligibility criteria, including establishing a benchmark for voting system performance.
Many lawmakers have floated the idea of getting rid of the punchcard systems, in which voters poke holes next to their preferred candidates, in favor of newer technology. In Florida, there was much dispute about ballots that were thrown out because holes were not punched all the way through.
But the commission said, ”There’s evidence of a bigger payoff, per dollar spent, in voter education and pollworker training.”
The summary also adds that a punchcard buyout ”could actually make financial problems worse for cash-strapped counties. If money is used to buy optical scanners, the big cost is in buying all those ballots year after year.”
For Congress, the report recommends setting up a federal grants program to help states pay for improvements under a cost-sharing formula. ”Let the states run it; don’t make Washington the umpire between states and counties or among the counties in a state,” the report says.
The report also discusses the effect of early media calls on elections. It requests voluntary action and also lists legislative action as an option.
Both the House and Senate have held hearings this year on that subject, but no legislative proposals have been advanced by any committees.
One group of lawmakers, led by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has offered a bill that would make available a pool of $2.5 billion over five years for local governments to replace voting machines or make other improvements.
Another bill by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would provide $3.5 billion to help states adopt uniform standards for voting machines by 2004. It would also take steps to improve voter education and ensure that people who are properly registered aren’t deprived of their right to vote.
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