ACLU Disappointed in Passage of Inadequate Election Reform Bill, Says Toothless Measure Allows States to Shirk Voting Rights Responsibilities

December 12, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today said it was disappointed in the passage of a controversial election reform bill, calling it inadequate legislation that would allow states to shirk their responsibility under the Constitution to ensure the right to vote for every eligible American.

“This election reform isn’t reform at all – it’s toothless,” said LaShawn Warren, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “States can easily opt out of crucial standards in the bill. It’s now up to the Senate to reject this bill, pass real election reform legislation and ensure voting rights for each and every American.”

The so-called Help America Vote Act of 2001 (HR 3295) passed the House of Representatives today by a vote of 362 to 63, with 20 Republicans voting against. Introduced in the House by Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Bob Ney (R-OH), the bill was portrayed as a comprehensive fix to the myriad problems with the nation’s electoral system. In reality, however, the bill does little to accomplish its intended purpose of helping all Americans vote, the ACLU’s Warren said.

Warren pointed to a number of inadequacies in the Ney-Hoyer bill, including an opt-out provision that would allow any state to easily avoid complying with suggested federal standards to address the gross inconsistencies in election quality from state to state. The bill would also be almost entirely ineffective in addressing the serious problems facing language minorities and persons with disabilities in casting their ballots and fails to provide for much needed voter education both on how to actually vote and on the constitutional right to vote.

In addition, Warren said that the Ney-Hoyer bill would result in many eligible and properly registered voters being dropped from the rolls because of poor safeguards against voters being purged from voting rolls. Under the legislation, voters would be disqualified from casting their ballots if they fail to vote in just two consecutive federal elections and fail to respond to a mailed notice; this provision is contrary to current law and would inordinately affect voters whose mail delivery service is of lesser quality. The ACLU has long favored a system of provisional voting, which would allow voters a chance to correct any erroneous registration information at the polling station and then vote.

Ironically, today’s vote comes on the one-year anniversary of the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision, which affirmed the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

“One year ago today, the Supreme Court made it very clear that the states have an obligation to guarantee the equal application of the franchise to all Americans,” Warren said. “This bill does nothing to ensure that states comply with this constitutional mandate.”

“The bill puts the fox in charge of the henhouse,” she added. “It reinvests authority – without meaningful federal oversight — in the same state administrators who allowed gross civil rights violations to occur in the last election.”

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