Election reform bill hits a snag in Senate

Partisan differences over voter identification stalling legislation

March 05, 2002|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Legislation designed to upgrade the nation's voting system in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election hit a snag yesterday when the Senate failed to resolve a partisan dispute over voter identification, but negotiators said they were making progress and hoped to reach a compromise soon.

Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle suspended action on the measure after the Senate failed for a second time in a week to break a filibuster waged by Republicans trying to prevent Democrats from weakening voter identification provisions.

But bipartisan leaders of the Senate Rules Committee, who are leading debate on the bill, appeared together afterward to say the measure could still be completed within the next few days.

"We're very, very close," said Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat.

New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer agreed to drop a proposal that would have allowed first-time voters to be identified by their signatures instead of the documents preferred by Republicans, such as a driver's license or government check.

But senators from Oregon, where all elections are conducted by mail, continued to seek provisions that would exempt their state from requirements they say would make voting by mail too difficult.

The delay threatens enactment of a measure that would provide up to $3.5 billion to the states to help them correct the many flaws exposed by the 2000 presidential contest.

The race between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore was so close that it forced numerous recounts, particularly in Florida, that revealed major problems in several states.

The House voted in December to approve its version of the measure, which would set minimum national voting standards and provide $2.6 billion in aid to the states. A key feature would send $400 million to the states to eliminate the punch-card ballots that were largely blamed for the difficulty in counting the pivotal presidential ballots in Florida.

At issue in the Senate was a dispute over how to increase access to the polls while at the same time curtailing voter fraud.

Republicans were backing a proposal that would require voters who registered by mail to offer proof of identity the first time they vote, such as a driver's license, utility bill or government check. They claimed the 2000 presidential election exposed loopholes in the current system that make it easier for fraudulent votes to be cast.

"We want to make it easier to vote but harder to cheat," said Sen. Christopher Bond, a Missouri Republican.

Democrats complained that the ID requirement would discriminate against the poor, the elderly, the disabled and recent immigrants who might not have such official identification because they don't drive or own property.

But Schumer said some of his concerns were addressed by a Republican agreement to allow provisional ballots to be cast by voters without identification.

Money would also be provided in the bill to pay for photo identification cards for voters who don't have them.

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