Bold New Plan for US Elections ; Voting on Veterans Day Is One of the Recommendations from a Commission Headed by Presidents Ford and Carter

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In 2004, Americans may very well be voting on Veterans Day, taking a federal holiday to choose their next president. It would be a radical departure for many people who now stand in long lines before or after work - or who don't find the time to vote at all.

The holiday idea is one of several bold recommendations made to President Bush yesterday by a bipartisan commission headed by former Presidents Ford and Carter. The report is the most ambitious attempt yet to fix a system that last fall took 36 days and a decision by the US Supreme Court to decide who would be president.

While the changes won't make American electoral politics foolproof, experts say it could help prevent some of the irregularities that occurred in Florida - and would mark the biggest election overhaul in 80 years.

The report's principles, which include the setting of uniform statewide election standards, were endorsed by President Bush - which could break a logjam of reform ideas piling up in Congress.

"It's a bold and well-reasoned report that offers several fresh ideas for Congress and deals with virtually every issue people have identified" from the November election, says Christopher Edley, a member of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, which produced the report. "It should provide a strong impetus for legislative action."

Indeed, all except two of the 13 recommendations received unanimous endorsement from the commission members, who come from a wide range of ideological backgrounds. It's this consensus, forged by former President Carter in a Camp David-like marathon closing session, that give members hope the work will be adopted.

President Bush has given at least tacit approval of many of the ideas in the report. While White House officials say they don't support every recommendation, the president does support the main principles, including the idea of states taking the primary role in addressing voting problems. Mr. Bush, at a Rose Garden ceremony, said Congress should use the "impressive" report as "guidelines for meaningful reform."

Among the report's recommendations:

* Making election day a federal holiday by moving Veterans Day to the first Tuesday in November during even-numbered years.

* Having Congress establish a federal agency that would set statewide voting standards, but allow the states themselves to figure out how to meet those standards. The rules would include allowing voters to correct errors.

* Having states create statewide systems for voter registration, and allow "provisional" voting. A major complaint in Florida was that many African-Americans, who claimed they were registered voters, were turned away at the polls.

The recommendation would allow such voters to go ahead and cast a ballot, with a follow-up check on their eligibility. This is already done in Los Angeles County and Washington State.

* Calling for a voluntary news blackout of election results until 11 p. …

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