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$3.9 billion in federal money over the next three years

    Get ready folks.....  James Rellinger

Bush Signs Voting Changes Bill

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

WASHINGTON  — President Bush signed legislation to revamp the nation's voting system and protect against the kinds of errors that threw his own election into dispute two years ago.

The White House scheduled a morning bill-signing ceremony for Tuesday, starting Bush's two-day respite from campaigning for GOP House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates in next Tuesday's elections.

Under the Martin Luther King Jr. Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2002, states will receive $3.9 billion in federal money over the next three years to replace outdated punch-card and lever voting machines or improve voter education and poll-worker training.

The new law's protections against voting error will not affect next week's balloting but are scheduled to be mostly implemented in time for the 2004 congressional and presidential vote, which will most likely include Bush's re-election bid.

It was Bush's bitter 2000 Florida recount battle with Democrat Al Gore — with its confusing "butterfly ballots," half-perforated punch ballots and allegations of voter intimidation — that gave rise to the legislation. Bush's election was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

The House approved election changes late last year and the Senate followed suit in April, but Republican demands for strong anti-fraud provisions stalled reconciliation of the two versions for months. Lawmakers did not send a final bill to Bush until last Wednesday.

"This has been a long marathon, but the finish line is finally in sight and the winner is the American public," said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn. "This landmark legislation will ensure that everyone not only has the right to vote on Election Day, but that their voice is heard."

Beginning Jan. 1, first-time voters who registered by mail will be required to provide identification when they show up at the polls.

By the 2004 vote, states will be required to provide provisional ballots to voters whose names do not appear on voter rolls. Those provisional ballots would counted once valid registration is verified.

For 2006 balloting, states will be required to maintain computerized, statewide voter registration lists linked to their driver's license databases. States will also be required to have voting machines that allow voters to confirm the way they marked their ballot — and, if necessary, change their votes — before they are finally cast.

Such voting software was tested in one jurisdiction in the 2001 Virginia gubernatorial election. The Century Foundation, which reviewed the results, found that the "lost vote" rate went from between 600-700 votes in the 2000 election to just one vote in 2001, said Tova Andrea Wang, a staffer to the National Commission on Federal Election Reform who later oversaw the foundation's study.

"The bill goes a long way toward addressing a lot of the problems, but the extent to which the bill works relies on what the states do because they are given a lot of discretion," said Wang.

"A new polling machine is fine and great as long as people know how to use it, and there's no specificity in the legislation on poll-worker training and voter education."

Wang and other election experts also worry that discriminatory enforcement of the voter-ID requirements could especially disenfranchise minorities, the poor, immigrants and students. She called the provision "something that may have to be revisited."

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