County officials rethinking elections

Spurred by Florida's problems with its election procedures, standards and technology, a new national election reform commission is examining the difficulties and successes that counties across the nation had Election Day.

The National Association of Counties and the National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks jointly sponsor the 21-member commission, called the National Commission on Election Standards and Reform. The new panel is composed of county and local election officials, civil rights leaders and academic and election experts. They expect to release a report in the spring.

It is one of a handful of national election task forces formed by various groups examining reported voting and counting problems during the past election. The House and Senate have also scheduled election reform hearings in the next several months, and a host of reform bills will be introduced in this session.

Several states, most notably Florida, also have formed task forces to examine their own laws and procedures or have introduced bills to replace outdated machines, study online voting and provide funding to counties.

Members of the Election Standards and Reform commission, which met Wednesday, say educating voters, training poll workers, changing state rules about elections and employing new technologies can improve future elections. Some also say elections need to be better financed and become a priority for state legislatures.

But several members say the system works despite the rancor, adding that it could never be foolproof.

"[While] we all try to make it a perfect process, it simply isn't," said Ernest Hawkins, commission co-chairman and NACRC president.

"My interest is to reassure Americans the [election] process does work," said R. Doug Lewis, a commission member and the executive director of the Houston-based Election Center, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit association of state and local election administrators.

Lewis said many people mistakenly think new voting technology offers the solution. "Despite all that's been written, despite all that's been said, technology alone is not the answer," he said.

He said revising state laws and educating voters and election officials is more important than technology.

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