America Vote Act is signed into law; action to take time

By Greg Wright
Gannett News Service
Oct. 30, 2002

WASHINGTON - Sweeping national election reforms President Bush signed into law Tuesday may not be enacted in all states for four more years, well after the presidential election in 2004, congressional aides and voting experts said.

The $3.9 billion Help America Vote Act of 2002 also does not provide enough grant money for all states to replace antiquated punch-card machines with splashy new touch-screen voting computers.

Punch-card machines have been blamed for the infamous hanging chads that marred elections in Florida and other states two years ago.

"Looking at it, it's not a cure-all, but it's significantly more than a Band-Aid," said Doug Chapin, director of

To help make elections run more smoothly, prove voters are registered, and give as many people as possible the chance to vote, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires states to:

• Make polling places accessible to the disabled.

• Put mechanisms in place to allow voters to alter their ballots if they mistakenly vote for the wrong candidate.

• Allow voters without identification to cast provisional ballots that could be verified later. States also would have to have voter registration databases, which would end the problem of duplicate ballot casting.

States are asked to enact reforms by 2004, but states that cannot meet the deadline can take two more years, said Stacey Farnen, spokeswoman for Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. So some states may not have reforms in place by the next federal election in 2004 although states such as Idaho and Iowa are making progress toward meeting the law's requirements, officials said.

Still, the bipartisan reform bill from Hoyer; Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio; and Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. eventually should ensure consistent voting systems across the United States, Bush said.

"The vitality of America's democracy depends on the fairness and accuracy of America's elections," he said before signing the bill.

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