Election reform bill includes IT provisions

Sen. Christopher Dodd helped reach a compromise on the election reform bill.

Congress last month approved a long-awaited, $3.86 billion authorization bill that would fund new election technology and procedural reforms, and the bill is headed to President Bush's desk for signature.

The House Oct. 10 voted 357-48, and the Senate Oct 16 voted 92-2, to approve the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HR 3295). The bill had been stalled for months in a conference committee of House Republicans and Senate Democrats while lawmakers disputed the legislation's provisions to prevent voting fraud and other sections.

The bill includes the first federal funds ever sent directly to state governments to help administer elections, and provides minimum standards to ensure fair elections.

A critical part of the legislation is authorization of $650 million to be spent in fiscal 2003 to upgrade voting systems. Title I of the bill requires that $325 million be devoted to replacing punch-card and lever voting machines. It also provides $325 million in payments to states to improve election administration. The legislation guarantees $5 million to each state for the improvements.

Budget breakdown

Other IT-related sections of the bill provide a $20 million authorization for fiscal 2003 for research on voting systems, $100 million over three years to increase polling access for disabled voters and $10 million for pilot programs in fiscal 2003 to test new voting systems and equipment.

The bill also provides $3 billion to states for the next three years to meet new requirements the legislation imposes for elections, some of which could require states to upgrade their voting IT. For example, the bill defines limits on voting system errors and requires states to implement a uniform, centralized system as a statewide voter registration database.

The bill provides $30 million to fund an Election Advisory Commission over the next three years that would issue voluntary guidelines for voting systems, carry out the grant programs and provide for certification and testing of voting systems. It also targets $40 million over four years to help promote voting by disabled persons, $200,000 for mock elections to test new voting equipment and $10 million in fiscal 2003 to encourage high school and college students to volunteer as poll workers.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the Administration Committee, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, early this month forged the final compromises that led to House passage and expected Senate passage of the bill.

As Dodd announced the agreement, he said, 'Rumors of the demise of election reform have been greatly exaggerated.'

Congress must pass an appropriations bill providing funds for the authorized actions before the measures take effect.

For more about the legislation, check thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:HR03295:@@@L&summ2=m&.

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