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Panel aims to restore confidence in voting

A commission seeking to restore confidence in America's election system gave Bush proposals on Monday calling for improved voter registration lists and requiring photo IDs that voters could get for free.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A commission seeking to restore confidence in the country’s election system gave President Bush proposals on Monday calling for improved voter registration lists and requiring photo IDs that voters could get for free.

Former President Carter noted that a commission he headed with former President Ford tried to resolve election problems after the 2000 election, but added, “There are still some remaining problems to be solved.” He said Bush “received it very well, though he can certainly speak for himself.”

The commission’s recommendations could finally resolve a long-standing debate about what causes the most problems with elections — voter fraud or inability to vote, said former Secretary of State James Baker, who chairs the commission with Carter.

“We think this report will go a long way to ending the sterile debate in our politics between ballot integrity and ballot access,” Baker said outside the White House after their meeting with Bush.

Requiring photo IDs is one of the most important and most difficult of the recommendations, Carter said.

National approach to photo IDs
“We addressed this with a great deal of hesitancy,” Carter said, adding that “24 states already require photo ID and 12 others are considering it.” Carter said a national approach would prevent states from putting in laws that are discriminatory.

Carter and Baker cited the loss of confidence in elections in the report, which they are also delivering to Congress. “While we do not face a crisis today, we need to address the problems of our electoral system,” they said.

The private Commission on Federal Election Reform, created to suggest ways to improve the electoral process, also favors four regional primaries to be held after the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. The commission recommends Congress legislate the change if political parties don’t change the system by 2008.

The current system picks nominees so quickly that voters in many states don’t get to consider the options, the commission said. As a result, Carter said, more than nine in 10 Americans never get a chance to vote.

Also, states should develop registration systems that allow easy checks of voters from one state to another and the purging of outdated voter records, according to the report by the bipartisan panel.

Voter confidence down after Bush-Gore election
Voter confidence dropped after the 2000 presidential election between Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The outcome was delayed for weeks because of problems with ballots in Florida.

Congress responded with the Help America Vote Act, signed into law in 2002, that allowed spending of several billion dollars to help states update voting systems, streamline voter registration and provide voter and poll worker education.

Yet in the 2004 race between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, there were claims of voting problems, especially in Ohio. Complaints included limited access to voting machines, difficulties finding proper voting precincts and the accuracy of vote totals in precincts using electronic machines.

Among the commission’s recommendations:

  • Congress should pass a law requiring voter-verifiable paper audit trails on all electronic voting machines.
  • States should require voters to present photo IDs and offer free photo IDs to those who don’t have drivers’ licenses.
  • All “legitimate domestic and international election observers” should be granted unrestricted access to the election process, within the rules of the election.
  • News organizations should voluntarily refrain from projecting any presidential election results in any state until all polls have closed in all states but Alaska and Hawaii.
  • States should establish uniform procedures for the counting of provisional ballots, which voters can use when there are questions about their registration.

The commission’s work was organized by the American University Center for Democracy and Election Management, in association with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, the Carter Center and