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Committee Examines 2004 Election Reforms

By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer

Wednesday, February 9, 2005
(02-09) 07:09 PST Washington, DC (AP)

Officials from a new federal voting commission cited improvements in the country's election system in the first congressional review of the 2004 election, which has sparked lawsuits and numerous complaints of irregularities.

House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio, called a hearing Wednesday to examine the successes and failures of the Help America Vote Act, which was passed after the disputed 2000 election in Florida but has been fraught with delays and a shortage of money.

The four-member Election Assistance Commission, in prepared remarks, said provisional voting in the 2004 election allowed more people to cast ballots and that more electronic voting machines were available. But the commission said there still was much work to be done to reform federal elections and that an instantaneous overhaul of the system envisioned by many Americans was unrealistic.

"In our 'fast food' and 'real time' society, it is easy to expect a quick fix to any given problem. Elections are complex and dynamic events that require years of advance planning and careful thought," the commission said.

Already, the commission has distributed $2.2 billion to states, which helped some to install new electronic or optical scan machines before the Nov. 2 election.

The law also resulted in more than 1.5 million Americans being able to cast provisional ballots, which were given to voters who said they were eligible to vote although their names weren't on the rolls. More than 68 percent of the provisional ballots cast on Election Day were counted toward the final vote, the commission said.

Secretaries of state from Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico and Iowa said in prepared remarks that they registered record numbers of voters, expanded voter education programs and poll worker training, made more polling places accessible to the disabled and replaced old voting machines.

"Certainly, our nation's election system is not perfect. This year, we saw too many long lines at polling places and large numbers of provisional ballots cast. But last November's election was successful overall," said Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, a Republican.

The hearing comes as the General Accountability Office, responding to complaints from around the country, investigates last year's vote count, including the malfunctions of voting machines and handling of provisional ballots. Lawsuits over provisional voting were filed in at least five states, most notably Ohio, Michigan and Missouri.

Many of the election complaints have come from Democrats, third-party candidates and voter advocates such as Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume, the outgoing president of the NAACP.

Republicans and bipartisan groups also have acknowledged problems.

Ney has pledged to hold a series of hearings to examine election issues, including reports of voter disenfranchisement and the growth of tax-exempt political groups that aren't regulated by the Federal Election Commission.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and Jackson already have held public forums on complaints of voting irregularities in Ohio, where President Bush clinched his re-election by winning the state's 20 electoral votes.


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