Senate Committee Passes Comprehensive Election Reform Bill, ACLU Says Congress Should Act Quickly To Fix Election System

August 2, 2001 12:00 am

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Thursday, August 2, 2001

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee today adopted, without weakening amendments, comprehensive legislation that the American Civil Liberties Union said would best protect the constitutional right to have each and every vote counted fairly.

“Federal legislation mandating a healthy and just electoral system is the only way to guarantee the vitality of our democracy,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The 2000 election debacle displayed the current cracks in the system in stark relief – a fix is needed immediately.”

Despite a boycott by the panel’s Republican members, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee approved 10-to-0 a bill sponsored by Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-CT and Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, and by Rep. John Conyers, D-MI.

The bill, called the “Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2001,” would meet the three principal goals of election reform – uniformity, accuracy and accessibility – and provide the money to help state and local governments fund necessary improvements. The ACLU strongly urged the committee in a letter yesterday to pass through a clean bill without any weakening amendments.

The ACLU’s Warren said the new “Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2001” represents the most comprehensive response to the widespread problem of voting inequality that went largely ignored prior to the November 2000 election. Unlike the other measures introduced in Congress, Warren said the Dodd/Daschle measure would set uniform performance standards for voting equipment, promote accuracy by upgrading technology and allowing voters to correct any balloting errors and ensure accessibility for all voters, including language minorities and people with disabilities.

The markup comes just days after President Bush gave a lukewarm response to recommendations for election reform advanced by a committee chaired by former President’s Carter and Ford. While the report included some valuable suggestions, the ACLU said, Congress should have the courage to go even further and pass the comprehensive Dodd-Daschle bill.

Having also filed litigation in four states, the ACLU has already met with an early success: a state judge in Illinois ordered the use of improved voting technology in Cook County for municipal elections held two months ago.

“The federal government has a constitutional obligation to give every vote in America an equal say in deciding on the direction in which America will go,” Warren said. “All other rights and liberties are moot without the right to choose one’s representative in this representative democracy.”

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