Bill casts out old voting machines

Each state is guaranteed at least $5 million to buy new voting machines and improve voting procedures, and some will receive considerably more from a $3.9 billion election reform bill Congress passed before members went home to run for re-election.

The law targets punch card and lever voting machines for elimination, earmarking $325 million for "buying out" those machines over the next three years. Problem-plagued punch cards, with their troublesome chads, were at the center of the disputed 2000 presidential election.

"This legislation will help America move beyond the days of hanging chads, butterfly ballots, and illegal purges of voters and accusations of voter fraud," said Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Another $325 million is intended to improve election administration, and at least that much is expected to be doled out to states for developing computerized statewide databases to improve the accuracy of voter registration rolls.

The registration systems are expected to be able to compare voter registration data against other government databases, such as state driver's license databases, Social Security data and other electronic identification information, said Doug Lewis, director of the Texas-based Election Center, an association for election officials.

The computerized registration systems, which are to be in place in 2006, should substantially improve the integrity of voter rolls by keeping legitimate voters on the rolls, removing ineligible or deceased voters and making it possible to instantly check identifications, Lewis said.

By providing funding for new voting equipment and better registration systems, Congress hopes "to make certain votes are counted properly and to make voter fraud more difficult," said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) Lugar was instrumental in including the provision for computerized voter registration systems in the bill.

Lawmakers set aside another $100 million to be used by states to ensure that at least one voting machine per precinct can be used by people with disabilities. That probably means buying electronic touch screen voting machines, which for now are the most accessible type, Lewis said.

The election reform law allots $20 million for developing new voting technology and $10 million for testing it. And it calls for more education for voters, poll workers and election officials. Lewis said some money should be spent to study how people learn so that more effective brief training courses can be developed for voters and poll workers.

But the bulk of the $3.9 billion will probably be spent on new voting machines, Lewis said. "There's no question the nation has too much antiquated voting equipment."

The bill awaits President Bush to sign it into law.

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