WASHINGTON – A group of Democratic lawmakers is going to the birthplace of American democracy to launch a cross-country series of hearings to evaluate problems in the voting process in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the last general election.
The Democratic Caucus's Special Committee on Election Reform is led by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Starting Monday, it will conduct a series of hearings in Philadelphia and will hit eight to 10 cities, including San Antonio, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; and cities in Florida and Mississippi.
"Real election reform is a priority for the American people, and it is a passion for Democrats. It is the civil-rights issue of the new millennium," said Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, a member of the committee.
Waters said the committee will analyze nationwide voting practices, election laws, voting equipment, registration laws and issues on voter disenfranchisement.
Going It Alone
The Democratic caucus took it upon itself to conduct the hearings without Republican input. They blamed Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., for the one-sidedness, saying he refused to split the committee evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
"We all but begged the Speaker to please have a real bipartisan committee and not set up a committee that was obviously designed to veto recommendations," Waters said. "If the Republicans had truly wanted to have a bipartisan committee, they would not have insisted on having the majority."
Hastert spokesman John Feehery said the Speaker rejected an even split because Republicans are the majority in the House and "you need to have someone in charge to drive the process." Feehery said that Hastert proposed to Democrats to split the resources of the committee equally and to require a supermajority of the vote to insure all decisions were bipartisan, but those proposals were rejected.
"They are looking for any excuse not to do this sort of thing so they can inject partisanship into the election," Feehery said.
Democrats, however, denied that their decision to go it alone was an effort to play politics.
"We're not trying to stack the deck and we're very sensitive to the fact that we would and should be harshly evaluated," said John Conyers, D-Mich.
Feehery said the GOP is not inclined to form a partisan committee and will take a look at how to make improvements to the election process through the regular committees of the Judiciary and House Administration.