VOTING REFORM BILL PASSES IN HOUSE
WASHINGTON: Today, the House of Representatives passed the Help America Vote Act of 2001 to reform the nation's electoral system. In particular, the bill requires states to adopt a uniform system for maintaining the accuracy of voter registration records; a set of uniform standards for what constitutes a vote on different types of voting equipment; and assurances that voters can correct voting errors. Furthermore, the bill authorizes $2.65 billion for Federal election reform, including $400 million to buyout unreliable punch card voting systems and $2.25 billion in Election Fund Payments to help states educate voters, improve equipment, recruit and train poll workers, and improve access for disabled voters. In remarks on the House floor today, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (NY) said, "Though this legislation is not exactly everything I would have wanted to see it is a positive step in election reform to ensure that the fiasco of last year's Presidential election is not repeated."
The bill includes a number of items to improve the election process domestically including, authorizing funds to help states and counties replace outdated punch card voting systems and establishing a minimum standard for State Election Systems to ensure that votes cast on all types of equipment are counted. Congresswoman Maloney has long been an advocate for the voting rights of Americans living overseas. Earlier this year with the bi-partisan support of Congressman Reynolds (R-NY) she introduced H.R. 1997, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Reform Act of 2001. The Help America Vote Act of 2001contains a number of provisions helping overseas Americans to participate in the election process including requiring the timely distribution of all voting materials to overseas voters and minimizes confusion by encouraging the use of a single absentee ballot, specific and uniform time lines for overseas voting procedures, and a single state entity to respond to overseas voter inquiries. It also includes provisions to encourage the development and use of technology in overseas voting and provides a long-awaited accurate count of overseas Americans who have voted in an election. Finally, the bill ensures that overseas voters who fill out an application for voter registration, will automatically receive an absentee ballot for the two federal elections following registration.
"Congressman Reynolds and I have long been proponents of making it easier for overseas Americans to participate in the election process. Though not all of the provisions of the legislation we introduced are included in this bill, I want to commend Chairman Ney and Ranking Member Hoyer for including many provisions that help overseas American participate in the election process. The millions of American citizens living internationally include the uniformed men and women protecting our country, as well as private citizens who practically serve as representatives and ambassadors to our country while living and working abroad. This is a victory today for overseas voters and for election reform."
Authorizes $400 Million to Buyout Punch Card Voting Machines
· This legislation authorizes one-time payments to states or counties to replace punch card voting systems in time for the November 2002 general election. Funding of $6,000 per precinct would be made available to states for buy out purposes.
· The bill also authorizes one-time payments to states or counties that enhance the performance of existing voting equipment.
Creates an Election Assistance Commission
· This bipartisan Commission will serve as a national clearinghouse for information and review of procedures for Federal elections. The Commission also consists of a Standards Board of state and local election officials and a Board of Advisors of election experts and interested parties. Among other duties, the Standards Board and Board of Advisors shall develop voluntary engineering and performance standards for voting systems and voluntary election management practices.
Allocates $2.25 Billion in Election Fund Payments to States
· This legislation authorizes $2.25 billion in Election Fund Payments to the states over three years to help states establish and maintain accurate lists of eligible voters; encourage voters to vote; improve equipment; improve verification and identification of voters; recruit and train poll workers; improve access for voters with disabilities; and educate voters about their rights and responsibilities.
· All States would be eligible for Election Fund Payments, and would be required to provide a 25 percent match. States must certify that they are in compliance with voluntary voting system standards (either their own or those adopted by the Commission).
· This bill also authorizes $20 million in grants by the Commission for research and development efforts to improve voting systems. The bill also authorizes $10 million for a pilot program for testing of equipment and technology.
Establishes Minimum Standards for State Election Systems
· This legislation prescribes that States adopt "Minimum Standards" for state election systems, including that States: 1) have a voter registration system linked to local jurisdictions in the state; 2) shall require in-precinct provisional voting; 3) have a system for maintaining the accuracy of voter registration records; 4) adopt uniform standards defining what constitutes a vote on the different types of voting equipment; 5) ensure that absent uniformed and overseas voters have their votes counted; 6) require new voting systems to provide a practical and effective means for voters with disabilities to cast a secret ballot; and 7) give voters the opportunity to correct errors.
· The Commission and Department of Justice will monitor compliance and enforce these "Minimum Standards."
Creates the Help America Vote Foundation and College Program
· This legislation creates the Help America Vote College Program, which would encourage college students to assist state and local governments in the administration of elections by serving as nonpartisan poll workers. The bill also would establish the Help America Vote Foundation, which would mobilize secondary school students to assist and participate in election processes as nonpartisan poll workers.
Reduces Postage Rates for Official Election Mail
This legislation provides for the reduction of postage rates for official election mail.