Jewish World Review April 15, 2002 /4 Iyar, 5762

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Election reform at hand

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | ORLANDO -- With the Florida Democratic Party meeting here over the weekend to showcase a host of 2004 presidential hopefuls, there was news from Washington to reassure them that the election fiasco of 2000, which centered on this state, will be avoided.

By a vote of 99-1, the Senate had just passed a five-year, $3.5 billion election reform bill designed to help states correct the faulty voting machinery and other flaws in the process that contributed to the November 2000 confusion that put George W. Bush in the White House over Al Gore.

With the House having already approved a similar but somewhat more modest ($2.65 billion) version last December, the prospects are good that the reform legislation will soon reach the desk of President Bush. Considering the overwhelming Senate vote, the dollar figure that comes out of a required House-Senate conference will no doubt be closer to the higher Senate number.

The president, while paying lip service to the reforms, didn't go out of his way to spur passage. Understandably, he had no personal complaint with the process, especially here in Florida, which provided him the razor-thin margin in the Electoral College that made him president.

Nevertheless, he commended the Senate for its action and is expected to sign the bill routinely. He may even do so in public, in contrast to his private, unceremonial inking of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation, which he reluctantly swallowed like sour milk.

Florida will get its share of the federal money, but its state legislature has already moved to reform or eliminate much of the apparatus and procedures that caused such controversy. They had the Democrats and the Gore campaign crying foul during the 36 days of counting, recounting and political maneuverings on both sides before the Supreme Court stepped in.

The legislature has already banned use of the infamous punch-card machines that led to the embarrassing saga of the chads - those paper snippets varying from hanging to dimpled and variations thereof, which had Florida voting officials playing guessing games about the validity of votes cast.

Likewise eliminated are the "butterfly ballots," so confusingly aligned in the machines in 2000 that conservative Republican Pat Buchanan, running as the Reform candidate, garnered a suspiciously large vote in an area of Jewish population of traditionally heavy Democratic voting.

The legislature here also has ordered establishment of a data base of voters to check their eligibility by computer. Many Florida voters claimed they were turned away at the polls on Election Day, some of whom erroneously had been identified as former felons ineligible to vote.

The Senate version allows for provisional ballot casting by voters whose eligibility is in question, with their votes counted upon later confirmation of their eligibility. Another provision opposed by some civil liberties groups will require first-time voters by mail to produce a printed document of some kind to establish their identification.

The Congressional Black Caucus, which was concerned over the reports that many black voters in northern Florida had been inhibited or intimidated against casting ballots in the 2000 election, finally endorsed the Senate bill.

The lone senator to vote against the reforms was Republican Conrad Burns of Montana, who argued that the bill was "one size fits all" and would not help rural states. But while the Senate bill does mandate more changes than the House version, both bills give considerable leeway to the states. In earlier hearings, their election and party officials balked at the imposition of specific voting machines and methods on them.

The bill that will finally go to President Bush will not cure all the election ills uncovered by the 2000 presidential election, in Florida especially, and it will not satisfy everybody. Nor, certainly, will it quell the continuing lament from Democrats that the Florida fiasco robbed their man, Gore, of the presidency. But it should make a rerun of that world-class controversy less likely in the future.


Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

04/12/02: Bush's vacillations
04/10/02: Gubernatorial olympics in Massachusetts
04/08/02: N.H.: Another political third rail
04/01/02: Energy: corporate or political scandal?
03/27/02: Targeting the Federal Election Commission
03/25/02: Campaign finance reform irony
03/20/02: The allure and curse of politics
03/18/02: Political junkies convention
03/15/02: Gore re-enters the arena
03/13/02: Reconsidering presidential succession
03/11/02: Murmurs of a war protest
03/04/02: Dems question expanding, paying for the war
03/01/02: More questions about historians' credibility
02/28/02: Early warning on bio-terrorism
02/25/02: Bush rhetoric, at home and abroad
02/22/02: Strategic influence or strategic deception?
02/20/02: Challenging Gore for 2004
02/19/02: Just a beginning on campaign finance reform'
02/13/02: Taking 'the Fifth'
02/11/02: Campaign finance reform showdown
02/08/02: Dems need a Truman
02/06/02: The Bush budget: Reality replaces poetry
02/04/02: Going after the Axis of Evil --- or not
02/01/02: Bush keeps Dems on ropes
01/30/02: White House task force secrecy
01/25/02: A politically poisonous congressional session
01/23/02: Whither AlGore?
01/21/02: In search of Tom Ridge
01/18/02: Kennedy takes on the tax fight
01/16/02: On the departure of high government officials
01/11/02: The lobbyist as party chairman
01/07/02: Torricelli's clean bill of health
12/12/01: The elevated vice presidency
12/07/01: September 11th and December 7th
12/05/01: Another children's crusade
12/03/01: Stall on campaign finance reform
11/30/01: Stall on campaign finance reform
11/28/01: More Justice Department folly
11/26/01: Ashcroft still under fire
11/21/01: Normalcy vs. security at the White House
11/12/01: Bush's latest pep talk
11/07/01: The blame game on airport security
11/05/01: Bellwether gubernatorial elections?
11/02/01: Feingold's complaint
10/31/01: Putting the cart before the horse?
10/29/01: Show business on economic stimulus
10/26/01: No political business as usual
10/24/01: Senatorial bravado
10/22/01: Split decision on gun rights
10/16/01: New York mayor's race: What kind of experience?
10/15/01: New York: Making a comeback
10/11/01: Giuliani: Fly in the election ointment
10/08/01: One or two New Yorks?
10/05/01: Providing your own security
10/01/01: Getting back to 'normal'
09/28/01: Muzzling the Voice Of America
09/26/01: Bush's transformation
09/24/01: Using a tragedy for a federal bailout
09/21/01: A view of tragedy at home from abroad
09/14/01: Script for AlGore's coming-out party
08/31/01: Scandal and privacy in politics
08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
08/13/01: You can go home again
08/10/01: Governors' Conference drought
08/08/01: Governors defend their turf
08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
07/30/01: Where is the fear factor?
07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
07/19/01: Katharine Graham, giant
07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
07/06/01: New comedian in the House (of Representatives)
06/27/01: Spinning Campaign Finance Reform's latest 'headway'
06/25/01: When Dubya says 'the check is in the mail,' you can believe him
06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
06/18/01: World Refugee Day
06/13/01: Remembering 'Hubert'
06/11/01: Ventura faces government shutdown
06/06/01: McCain doth protest too much
06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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