Senate passes bill to improve voting procedures

W By Edward Walsh

wASHINGTON – Almost two years after ballot confusion and mistakes in Florida threw the 2000 presidential election into tumult, the Senate passed and sent to President Bush legislation designed to improve the nation’s voting procedures and provide the first substantial federal spending for that purpose.

The bill, approved 92 to 2, authorizes $3.86 billion over the next four years to upgrade voting equipment, improve election administration and poll-worker training, and change some of the ways Americans register to vote and cast ballots. The House earlier passed identical legislation, and Bush has pledged to sign it.

Under the bill, beginning with the 2004 presidential election, the states must provide “provisional ballots” to voters whose names do not appear on registration lists. The ballots would be counted if the voter’s registration was later verified.

By the 2006 election, each state must have a statewide, computerized voter registration list linked to its driver’s license agency, a step that should make it easier to verify the registration of voters whose eligibility is in question. By then, all voting equipment will have to provide for “second chance voting” – allowing voters to correct errors in their ballots before they are cast.

In addition, every polling place will be required to have at least one voting machine accessible to the disabled, and state legislatures must define what constitutes a legal vote for each type of voting machine used in the state.

The Senate vote culminated an effort set in motion by the extraordinarily close 2000 presidential election in Florida, and its spectacle of hanging and dangling chads from punch-card ballots and varying standards for counting votes.

lmost two years after ballot confusion and mistakes in Florida threw the 2000 presidential election into tumult, the Senate passed and sent to President Bush legislation designed to improve the nation’s voting procedures and provide the first substantial federal spending for that purpose.

The bill, approved 92 to 2, authorizes $3.86 billion over the next four years to upgrade voting equipment, improve election administration and poll-worker training, and change some of the ways Americans register to vote and cast ballots. The House earlier passed identical legislation, and Bush has pledged to sign it.

Under the bill, beginning with the 2004 presidential election, the states must provide “provisional ballots” to voters whose names do not appear on registration lists. The ballots would be counted if the voter’s registration was later verified.

By the 2006 election, each state must have a statewide, computerized voter registration list linked to its driver’s license agency, a step that should make it easier to verify the registration of voters whose eligibility is in question. By then, all voting equipment will have to provide for “second chance voting” – allowing voters to correct errors in their ballots before they are cast.

In addition, every polling place will be required to have at least one voting machine accessible to the disabled, and state legislatures must define what constitutes a legal vote for each type of voting machine used in the state.

The Senate vote culminated an effort set in motion by the extraordinarily close 2000 presidential election in Florida, and its spectacle of hanging and dangling chads from punch-card ballots and varying standards for counting votes.