Election reform gathers momentum
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Feb 04, 2001
A flurry of election reform bills have been or will be introduced in state
legislatures across the United States, many calling for the creation of
task forces to study their respective election laws and procedures and evaluate
modern voting technologies, including online voting.
At least a dozen states are mounting some type of election reform action,
according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org),
an advocacy group representing the interests of state legislators. The action
is a direct outgrowth from the alleged voting and recounting problems during
the presidential election in Florida and in several other states.
"I think the level of scrutiny placed on the presidential elections
this past November generated a desire on the part of our members to work
to change what they may feel are the weaker parts of their state election
system," said Susan Parnas Frederick, NCSL's law and justice committee director.
She said she isn't surprised by the degree of activity relating to the
"State legislatures are finally attuned to the election process. They,
more than anybody, aside from the county officials, are taking the brunt
of the criticism. They want to fix things and make things right for the
state," she said.
For instance, in Arkansas, State Rep. Kim Hendren proposed the creation
of an election advisory committee to study current state election laws,
technological advances, laws in other states and problems that have occurred
in previous elections. A report would be due by Oct. 31, 2002. Two other
legislative bills have proposed similar measures.
State officials and lawmakers in Arizona, Florida, New York, Ohio, Oregon
and Pennsylvania have proposed numerous bills in their respective legislatures
to form task forces that would look into a range of election-related issues.
In California, several major proposals have been presented:
* Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg proposed $300 million in grants
so participating counties could modernize or replace their voting systems.
New systems include touch-screen voting systems, optical scan units or other
technologies. Assemblyman Robert Pacheco has introduced a similar bill.
* Major features of the Voting Modernization Act, proposed by California
Assembly Majority Floor Leader Kevin Shelley, would authorize the secretary
of state there to help participating counties update their systems through
a proposed seven-member Voting Modernization Commission. The act would also
establish an online voting program authorizing the secretary of state to
develop standards, certification and procedures for counties to offer such
* The centerpiece of Secretary of State Bill Jones' 10-point election
reform plan is the creation of a $230 million Democracy Fund to help counties
buy updated voting technologies, including vote- counting software and absentee
ballot processing equipment.
New Jersey could have a Voting Technology and Procedures Study Commission
following legislation introduced in both houses there. The proposed nine-member
commission would study available voting technologies and make recommendations
of what types the state should use, examine recount issues, and recommend
a uniform policy for conducting recounts in disputed elections. That commission
would have four months to formulate a report.
Another New Jersey bill, introduced Jan. 9, would mandate the use of
electronic voting machines and would outlaw the use of mechanical voting
machines, punch-card systems and paper ballots, except in emergency situations.
In the New Hampshire House of Representatives, a bipartisan group has
introduced HB 124, which would establish a committee to study the feasibility
of online voting with a report due no later than Nov. 1.
Lawmakers in the Colorado and Connecticut legislatures might consider
similar bills, said NCSL's Frederick. "That's a huge issue," she said of
Internet voting. "But we don't know what sort of role that technology can
Frederick said she's heard of other states planning to study the issue
or introduce some type of legislation related to election reform, including
Washington, South Dakota, Virginia, Nevada, New Mexico and Maryland.
On the federal level, hearings are planned on at least two Senate bills
the Voting Study and Improvement Act and the Election Reform Act and
several House bills addressing election reform are in the works.
Several national organizations are also conducting or plan to conduct
hearings on election reform.
NCSL has formed a bipartisan task force on the topic. The National Association
of Counties (www.naco.org) and the National Association of County Recorders,
Election Officials and Clerks (www.nacrc. org) are sponsoring a joint commission
The National Association of Secretaries of State has also created a
committee, as has the Houston-based Election Center (www.electioncenter.org),
a nonprofit group composed of state and local election administrators.
The International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials
and Treasurers (www.iacreot.com), a nonprofit professional association of
1,500 members worldwide, has formed an Election Resource and Review Commission
to gather data and offer expert testimony on federal, state and local election