Messy Elections Could Get Federal Cleanup

Key players from both political parties are working to develop federal legislation on overhauling election procedures after months of partisan gridlock, say those familiar with the negotiations.

"I think there will be a serious attempt to pass legislation prior to the end of this congressional session," said Doug Lewis, director of the non-partisan Election Center in Houston. "I was pessimistic over the last six months, but now it looks as if folks are ready to talk."

Staffers for several lawmakers involved in the negotiations, including Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Christopher Bond, R-Mo., said both sides are trying to work out differences.

"Senator Bond is currently negotiating with Senator Dodd on an election reform bill that had been stalled prior to these negotiations," said Julie Dammann, chief of staff for Bond. "We're hopeful we can come to an agreement before the Senate goes out this year."

Marvin Fast, a Dodd spokesman, agreed the two senators are working closely in an attempt to move legislation forward.

The Senate's Rules and Administration Committee, chaired by Dodd, approved a measure in August that would have given states $3.5 billion to deal with election problems and set federal standards for counting votes. Republicans didn't support it, saying it was loaded with too many federal mandates.

Bond is working with Dodd to strengthen measures to prevent vote fraud, while addressing other GOP concerns.

Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., are trying to iron out differences in a House measure that would provide federal money for poll worker training and help pay for new voting equipment.

A new report released Monday notes that numerous efforts to craft solutions to the nation's election problems have yielded few results at this point because of sharp partisan differences.
Several states, notably Florida, Georgia and Maryland, moved this year to upgrade their voting systems statewide, while others have taken steps on a smaller scale.

"While there hasn't been a big change in how Americans vote, there has been lots of activity attempting to change the election system," said Doug Chapin, director of the Election Reform Information Project. "The obstacle is not a lack of interest or commitment, but a lack of consensus."