As the presidential race extends yet another week into its
"challenge phase," scores of legislators at national, state, and
local levels are already working to make sure that an election like
this one never happens again.
From amending the Constitution to chad-proofing ballots, election
reform may be a first task for Congress and state legislatures
across the United States. It's also creating a bonanza for
entrepreneurs eager to move election technology into the 21st
century - or at least out of the 19th.
Some proposals aim to work out kinks in the system: Decide what
constitutes a vote before television crews converge outside the
recount center. Scrap archaic voting machines and baffling ballots.
Clean up voting lists. Train poll workers to cope with floods of
new voters or absentee ballots.
Other suggestions, such as abolishing the Electoral College,
reopen some of the toughest issues the Founding Fathers debated
when they drafted the Constitution.
"It's pretty clear from this election that we need to modernize
our voting equipment. Having a hodgepodge of systems using 19th-
century technology doesn't cut it when we can put a man on the
moon," says Eric Olson of the nonprofit Center for Voting and
Democracy in Takoma Park, Md.
Upgrading and standardizing the voting process may be the first
fix - and the punch-card ballot, the first casualty. Reps. William
Delahunt (D) of Massachusetts and Lindsay Graham (R) of South
Carolina are proposing legislation this week to develop national
standards for the conduct of federal elections, including outlawing
the ballots that introduced the world to the many ways voters can
punch - but not quite - a piece of cardboard.
Congressman Delahunt had a crash course in dimpled and dangling
chads when his 1996 congressional primary race wound up in the
courts. He lost the race on primary night, but sued in state court
to have more than 900 dimpled ballots counted as votes. They were,
and Delahunt eventually won the seat by 108 votes. After that
controversial recount, Massachusetts outlawed punch-card voting.
"Massachusetts fixed its ballot problem and used public outrage
to help build the momentum to make changes," says Steve Schwadron,
an aide to Delahunt.
Under the terms of the Delahunt/Graham proposal, a bipartisan
commission, including state and local representatives, will study
the "accuracy, integrity, and efficiency" of federal election
procedures. Washington will also establish federal matching grants
to help states upgrade their voting systems.
Any moves to dictate election policy to the states could run up
against constitutional issues. But advocates of reform say there is
a federal interest in how states manage elections for national
Congress is gearing up for hearings on many of the glitches of
Election 2000, including botched media coverage on election night,
the timeliness and accuracy of vote counts, and mishandled overseas
military ballots. …