United Press Intl.
New voting law just a
start, say experts
By Christian Bourge
October 31, 2002
A new federal
law aimed at reforming the nation's election procedures to eliminate
miscounts and fraud is likely to have a minimal impact on the
quality of the voting process, according to a series of reports from
an influential think tank. Election experts on all sides of the
issue agree with the reports' conclusions.
"This act covers only a
small portion of the larger problems of election administration and
voting," Jon B. Gould, assistant director of the administration of
justice program at George Mason University Law School, told United
After months of debate in the U.S. House and
Senate, President George W. Bush signed the Help America Vote Act of
2002 into law on Tuesday. The measure establishes minimum federal
standards intended to prevent fraud as well as the type of ballot
disputes that delayed the certification of Florida's results during
the 2000 presidential elections.
The new law authorizes $3.9
billion in federal spending over the next three years, focused
primarily on assisting states to replace old voting technologies
such as punch cards and lever voting machines.
The law also
provides money for the establishment of computerized lists of
registered voters in each state, the implementation of technology to
allow ballot review prior to a vote being counted, and training for
But a series of reports recently published by the
liberal Century Foundation that examine the 2001 governors races in
Virginia and New Jersey and mayoral races in Los Angeles and New
York City, found that these technology-focused reforms are only the
beginning of what is needed.
The Century reports show that election
problems in 2001 were much less significant in Virginia and Los
Angeles, where reforms similar to those just enacted by Congress
already exist. In New Jersey and New York City, election problems
were found to be much more severe and have been attributed to their
scattershot approach to election reform and lack of new voting
According to the reports, although new technology
could reduce voter error and uncounted ballots, voter education,
poll worker training and other factors were also important to reduce
these problems. These are factors that some analysts believe the new
law does not adequately address.
Gould, who authored the Century
report "Florida Moves North: Electoral Reform in Virginia Post
2000," said that Virginia has made great strides on the issue.
"Virginia is a valuable lesson for the rest of the country," said
Gould. "There are a number of models, but I think Virginia deserves
credit for solving many of the problems other states have found."
He said that Virginia's combining of new voting technologies with
education efforts aimed at voters and poll workers, along with the
development of statewide registration rolls, were effective moves to
counter existing problems. He said that the new voting act would
promote similar improvements across the nation
believes that these mandates will only make a small impact on the
overall election process because of the limited funding provided by
"If they truly want to fix the problems of miscast
ballots from machines, and if Congress believes it is important to
replace machines, then they need to give states more money to do
that," he said. "The reforms in this bill threaten to be an under
funded federal mandate."
Voting machines and related technology
problems are only a small portion of the picture, he said.
larger problem is voter education for which the bill has some money
but not enough," he said.
Gould added that the $5 million that the
act allocates to encourage voter turnout is "just a drop in the
bucket" compared to what is needed to develop effective voter
education efforts nationwide.
Amy Kauffman, director of the project
on campaign and election laws at the conservative Hudson Institute,
said that calls for more spending ignore the reality of the
"It (the voting act) was four billion dollars that the
government didn't need to spend," Kauffman said.
She noted that no
matter how much money is spent or how many changes are made to the
American election system, it is still a human design that will be
prone to error.
"The bottom line is that we are never going to be
able to prevent another Florida," she said. "Next time it will be in
New Jersey or Arizona. No matter how much money you throw at the
situation you will not eliminate human error."
Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy,
says the reforms are a good step in the right direction. He noted,
however, that they still fail to address other overriding concerns.
"This bill should go a long way to make elections better but we
still have a number of troubles that are not addressed by this
bill," said Richie, whose advocacy group promotes election reforms
such as instant runoff voting,
He said that the potential of
proportional representation -- as an alternative to current
plurality-based elections -- and low interest by voters are still
Besides technology, other major areas addressed by
the act include the requirement that first-time voters who
registered by mail present identification at polling places as a
means to prevent fraud. New criminal penalties for voter and
registration fraud are also established under the measure.
are also required to define in state law what constitutes a valid
vote on the various types of voting equipment used locally, in order
to avoid the kinds of ballot questions raised in the 2000 Florida
The states must also have a method that
allows people who are not listed on the precinct voter list on
Election Day to cast a provisional ballot that would be counted only
after their registration is verified.
Kauffman said that better
training for poll workers would be the reform that would have the
"That is something that the states should be
doing," she said. "It is also something candidates should be doing
in terms of having people outside of the polls informing people
where their names are on the ballots."
Kauffman also supports the
new law's requirement that states adopt technology to streamline the
voter registration system. She stressed, however, that implementing
new technologies is costly and will not necessarily improve the
chances for error free elections, and cited as proof the failures in
the use of touch screen voting in Florida precincts during this
year's gubernatorial primaries.
"Technology helps out the
situation, it doesn't solve our problems," she said.