Posted 8:37 p.m. Oct 10
by Rati Bishnoi
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)
(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON–Lawmakers approved legislation granting $3.9 billion to states to improve and upgrade current voting systems last week.
The election overhaul bill, H.R. 3295 would help states replace punch-card voting systems, improve voter registration methods and make polling booth accessible to the disabled.
The bill, to be voted on this week, was created in response to the stalemate presidential election between President George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore in 2000.
Despite a 36 day delay in the presidential race, a Supreme Court decision and brand new voting machines, human errors and equipment failures earlier this year in Florida primaries prompted Florida Secretary of State Jim Smith to ask Attorney General John Ashcroft for federal assistance.
The funds, which are to be dispensed over a three-year period, would allow states with punch card and lever voting systems to buy upgraded machines. As par the legislation, states would institute provisional voting, which would allow voters to cast a ballot without previously appearing on election rolls. The validity of the ballots would be verified later.
Republican and Democratic negotiators are pushing to immediately provide $850 million to states for election equipment improvement.
The compromise established statewide registration lists that would use the last four numbers of the driver’s license or Social Security number as an identifier. Those voters without either of the two forms of identification would be offered substitute identification by the state.
It was these identification requirements that gridlocked the negotiation process for months since the bill’s inception.
During the negotiation process, Senate Republicans sought for the approval of measure sponsored by Sen. Kit Bond, (R-Miss.), requiring first time voters who registered by mail to show identification such as photo Ids, utility bills or other documents.
“Ninety percent of adult Americans have a driver’s license. You have to show an ID to get on a plane, to rent a video, to buy cigarettes. Why can’t you have some minimal identification to assure that you are a live human being, entitled to vote, and entitled to vote only once in a very important election?” Bond asked on the Senate floor.
Democratic opposition to the identification provision was a long-standing hurdle for acceptance of the bill. Democrats felt the provision discriminated against the poor and minorities.
“(There are) millions of people today who are not going to get to vote because they don’t have a photo ID, because they don’t have any means of showing identification through ownership,” Daschle said to CNN.
Senators such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D-NY) and Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore) supported Daschle’s assertion that the bill would disenfranchise some voters in the inner city and on Indian reservations, both traditionally home to Democratic constituents.
Even though the identification measure was included in the bill, Democratic lobbyists succeeded in including a provision that gives the Justice Department the right to sue states for violating voting requirements.
Democrats had initially wanted to include a measure allowing individual voters the right to sue a state or jurisdiction for election violations that go unaddressed.
“We have a bill that represents a tremendous advance of civil rights,” said Rep. John Convers, (D-Mich.). “Because of this bill, every American will be closer to living in a democracy where every vote that is cast is counted and where the legitimacy of our democracy is no longer placed in doubt.”
The bill has been under negotiation for months between the Republican controlled House who passed a $2.6 billion package in 2001 and the Democrat-controlled Senate, which passed a $3.5 billion package earlier this year.
The bill, which gives states more a role in elections instead of local governments, will be completely instituted by the presidential election of 2004.