Election Reformers Hand Report to Bush, Congress

Former President Jimmy Carter (search) and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III (search) met with President Bush and members of Congress on Monday, presenting to them 87 recommendations on election reform aimed at reducing voter fraud and making sure everyone who wants to vote can.

The report includes recommendations to institute a free, national voter identification program, paper verification of electronically cast votes and a regional primary system. The recommendations were developed by the Commission on Federal Election Reform (search), for which Baker and Carter are co-chairs.

Carter noted that a commission he headed with former President Ford tried to resolve election problems after the 2000 election, but added, "there are still some remaining problems to be solved." He said Bush "received the report very well, though he can certainly speak for himself."

Carter and Baker said the recommendations aim to reduce voter fraud, increase voter confidence and raise the standards of U.S. elections to those of some of its international neighbors.

To read the report, click here.

"We think this report hopefully will go a long ways toward ending the sterile debate that we have in our politics about ballot integrity versus ballot access because many of the recommendations in this report move in both of those directions," Baker said after meeting with Bush.

The men later met with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.

Carter said the most controversial recommendation was likely the national identification program. Under this program, which would be phased in through 2010, the ID required at the voting booth would be provided for free in an effort to prevent voter discrimination against the poor.

Requiring photo IDs is one of the most important and most difficult of the recommendations, Carter said.

"We addressed this with a great deal of hesitancy," Carter said, adding that "24 states already require photo ID and 12 others are considering it." Carter said a national approach would prevent states from putting in laws that are discriminatory.

Carter said one effect of the recommendation would be to correct the "horrible, discriminatory" law passed in his home state of Georgia. He noted that state law there allows a fee of $20 to be charged for five-year voter registration cards and $35 for ten-year cards — a fee he argues deprives the poor, blacks, elder and others from voting.

At a press conference after meeting with the congressional leaders, Carter said he at first had serious reservations about the ID card recommendation, but was convinced after probing Georgia and other states' election laws. The program would also automatically register voters.

"So this will be, I think, a move forward, and getting more people to vote. It will not restrict people from voting. It'll be uniformly applied throughout the country and ... it will be non-discriminatory," Carter said.

The national ID proposal drew praise from some but fire from others.

"The Baker-Carter commission's report represents a real step forward in the election reform debate," Thor Hearne, general counsel of the American Center for Voting rights and adviser to the commission, said in a statement Monday.

He added that the system would help "in securing the vote and regaining public confidence."

But Rep. John Conyers (search), D-Mich., blasted the commission for not taking into account more input from civil rights groups and argued that the ID program makes the entire commission report "dead on arrival from a civil rights and voting rights perspective."

The ID requirement would represent "several giant steps back in the march for voting rights," Conyers said, and "would inevitably disenfranchise minority voters and the most vulnerable among us — those who live in poverty and the elderly."

Conyers, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (search), criticized the Carter-Baker commission and said Congress would likely not fund the ID program.

"The Republican Congress has a consistent record of imposing mandates on the states and then failing to fund the implementation of such mandates," he said. "Even if the new cards are cost free, there is little doubt that the ID offices will prove inaccessible or expensive to access for many."

Other recommendations include asking states to share voter registration lists to prevent double registration and other problems, and the purging of outdated voter records.

Carter and Baker also cited the loss of confidence in elections in the report. "While we do not face a crisis today, we need to address the problems of our electoral system," they said.

Another idea is to shift to a regional primary system of four presidential primaries, although they did not recommend ending the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary — historically the first two barometers of political popularity for the party's presidential hopefuls. After the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, the plan calls for four primaries at one-month intervals. The order in which regions voted would rotate every four years.

The commission recommends Congress legislate the change if political parties don't change the system by 2008.

"We believe it's the best approach," Carter said.

The current system picks nominees so quickly that voters in many states don't get to consider the options, the commission said. As a result, Carter said, more than nine in 10 Americans never get a chance to vote.

The rotating primary might not gain traction, though, said Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who once led efforts to get the rotating regional primary approved by the nation's secretaries of state.

"The problem with the Carter-Baker Commission is exactly the problem with the National Association of Secretaries of State," Galvin said. "We're both bipartisan and there's nothing bipartisan about scheming for presidential primaries."

After the legally challenged election of George W. Bush in 2000 when he ran against then-Vice president Al Gore, voter worries spiked and in 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (search) — or HAVA — which allocated money to update voting systems and improve voter registration practices.

But there were more complaints last year after President Bush's reelection when he was challenged by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., especially in the battleground state of Ohio. There were questions over voting machine access, electric vote total accuracy, and even where the voters were supposed to cast their ballots.

Carter said some provisions of HAVA were not put in place. Another of the commission's recommendations is to act on all provisions of HAVA.

Among the commission's other recommendations are:

— All "legitimate domestic and international election observers" should be granted unrestricted access to the election process, within the rules of the election.

— News organizations should voluntarily refrain from projecting any presidential election results in any state until all polls have closed in 48 states, with Alaska and Hawaii excluded.

— States should prohibit senior election officials from serving or assisting others' political campaigns in a partisan way.

— States should establish uniform procedures for the counting of provisional ballots, which voters can use when there are questions about their registration.

Organizing the commission's work is the American University Center for Democracy and Election Management, in association with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, the Carter Center and Electionline.org.

FOXNews.com's Greg Simmons and the Associated Press contributed to this report.