Senate approves election reform measure, 92-2

Critics say bill may pose new obstacles to voting

October 17, 2002|By Nick Anderson | Nick Anderson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation yesterday meant to improve the nation's election systems, clearing it for President Bush's signature despite concerns among some civil rights advocates that the measure could pose new obstacles to voting.

The action, following a similar House vote last week, completes the congressional drive to respond to the 2000 presidential election controversy. Flaws in the machinery of American democracy were exposed in that election, as the Florida recount made punch-card ballots and chads infamous and left the contest between Bush and Democrat Al Gore in limbo for more than a month.

The bill, which the White house supports, would authorize more than $3.8 billion in federal aid over three years to state and local election agencies. Most of the money would be distributed by a formula tied to voting-age population.

The Senate approved the bill 92-2. Only Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both New York Democrats, were opposed. The House vote on Oct. 10 was 357-48.

Some groups, led by Latino rights organizations, say the legislation would impose onerous identification requirements on first-time voters that could keep people away from the polls.

Under the bill, which would take effect for the 2004 election, first-time voters who register by mail will need to provide a valid photo identification - such as a driver's license - or a copy of a utility bill, bank statement, government check or some other official document. Failing that, the voters may supply a driver's license number, the last four digits of a Social Security number or some other official number kept in a state voter database. Voters whose credentials are challenged also must be allowed to cast a provisional ballot that can be verified later.

Nick Anderson writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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