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Senate Approves Election System Revision With Sweeping Majority

By Edward Walsh

The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to revise the nation’s election system Thursday, a direct response to the 2000 presidential election recount controversy in Florida that could begin to affect the way Americans cast their ballots in the next presidential election in 2004.

By a vote of 99-1, the Senate passed a measure that for the first time would establish federal requirements for elections to federal office such as Congress. It would, for example, require each state to have in place a system to count disputed ballots of voters whose names were left off official registration lists.

The bill also would provide up to $3.8 billion in federal funds to meet the new requirements, upgrade voting equipment and adopt procedures and train poll workers. Historically, elections in the United States have been governed by state laws and administered by local officials, with state and local governments bearing almost all of the costs.

By infusing a substantial amount of federal funds into the system and requiring the states to take certain steps to improve access to voting, lawmakers hope to avoid a repetition of the 2000 Florida vote, which was marked by widespread allegations of defective voting equipment and denial of voting rights to minorities.

The Senate bill must be reconciled with another election overhaul measure that the House, by a 363-63 vote, passed in December. The $2.65 billion House bill is less generous than the Senate version, and would impose less stringent requirements on states.

The two bills contain significant differences, including the methods by which federal funds would be made available to state and local governments and a voter identification requirement that was insisted on by Senate Republicans. Election reform experts said these didn’t appear to be insurmountable.