Published April 19, 2005
WASHINGTON – Witness after witness attending Monday's hearing of the Presidential Commission on Election Reform (search) argued that the federal election system has to work better so that everyone accepts the outcomes as legitimate.
"The real job of an election is not to convince the winners that they won, which is often very easy, but to convince the losers that they lost," said Stanford University Professor David Dill, who testified at the first of two public hearings on election reform.
Creating more confidence in the electoral process is the task of the commission, co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter (search) and James A. Baker III (search), a former secretary of state and treasury.
But the commission has the additional burden of working through much of the lingering resentment that existed after the disputed 2000 presidential election and to some extent the 2004 vote as well.
Some liberal groups had called for Baker to resign because he was part of the Bush election team in 2000. But during Monday's hearing, Carter put that notion to rest.
"President Gerald Ford is my favorite Republican. My second favorite is James Baker. I'm very delighted he's agreed to serve as co-chair in this process," he said.
The commission isn't the first effort to reform voting. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (search) in late 2002 and created an Election Assistance Commission (search) to offer recommendations and federal money to the states for improvements.
States have complete control over balloting, but many believe they have devoted too few resources to make the process work well.
"You get what you pay for and right now we are paying the price for our miserly approach to the administration of elections," said League of Women Voters (search) president Kay Maxwell.
"Too many of our states still have election systems that are so sloppy that you cannot tell where incompetence ends and where actual fraud might begin," said Wall Street Journal writer John Fund, who has tracked many of the fraud allegations that surrounded both 2000 and 2004.
Many analysts agree that the problems seen in 2000 did not end in 2004.
"The presidential election did not go smoothly. Voters waited in lines for hours, they were confronted by malfunctioning voting equipment, they faced sometimes arbitrary voter ID requirements," said Common Cause (search) President Chellie Pingree.
But regardless of how well or poorly the states did, Baker said not to expect control to be taken away.
"Many are opposed to federalizing our elections," he said.
Disagreements remain over basic issues, such as what kind of voting machines are best, whether a paper trail is necessary with electronic voting, and how to train poll workers to respond more efficiently to glitches.
Some at the hearing doubted that those questions will be resolved in time for the congressional election in 2006.
"Will the systems be ready in time? I've mentioned that. I doubt it," said Professor Henry Brady of the University of California at Berkeley.
All the questions about lines and voting machines and other factors that make voting more difficult do not explain why 40 percent of Americans don't even try to vote. That is one more question that the commission hopes to address.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jim Angle.