Report shows some states enacting election reforms

WBy Frank Davies

wASHINGTON (KRT) – Because of election debacles in Florida, voters in about half the states will see “modest changes” at the polls when they vote Nov. 5, according to a nationwide election-reform study released Tuesday.

But former Attorney General Janet Reno, who lost Florida’s Democratic primary for governor Sept. 10 amid serious voting-machine problems, warned Tuesday that Florida’s woes could appear elsewhere if officials don’t get a better handle on voting technology.

“It’s imperative that we master the machines and not let the machines run us,” Reno said at a news conference announcing the study. “There’s a real lack of cyber-expertise in the nation, and we’re seeing that on Election Day. Good hands-on training is essential.”

The 50-state report by electionline.org, a nonpartisan Web site of information on election reform, found that many states studied election problems in 2001 and made improvements in 2002.

At least 20 states adopted statewide registration databases, new voter identification requirements or provisional voting, which allows a voter whose registration is in doubt to cast a ballot that can be verified later.

“No state wanted to be `another Florida,’ ” the report found. At the same time, financially strapped states were reluctant to approve major expenditures for new equipment and training.

Eleven states approved new machinery and other improvements but are waiting for federal funding, and 13 states did nothing.

A landmark election-reform bill that Congress passed this month probably will deliver significant aid to the states next year. Bush is expected to sign the legislation.

“This year’s modest changes will pale in comparison to the likely deluge of state and local election reforms in 2003 and beyond, prompted by the availability of federal funds and the requirements of federal standards,” the report found.

Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, noted that Congress still must approve funding for the $3.86 billion, five-year election package before any money will reach the nation’s 6,800 voting jurisdictions. All Congress has approved so far is a bill endorsing the plan; it has not yet OK’d spending the cash.

There is a great need for new equipment, better training and more poll workers, said Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, an organization of state and local election officials.

“The election process in this country has been allowed to atrophy,” he said. “Like many things in this country, we wait until it’s a crisis before we fix it.”

The report found that the problems in Florida’s Broward and Miami-Dade counties last month demonstrated that spending large sums on new equipment and procedures without proper training spells trouble.

“Florida looked like a state plagued by electoral dysfunction,” the study said.