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Surprise: Election Reforms Politicized PDF  | Print |  Email
By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet   
April 15, 2008
From an article posted at AlterNet and reposted here with permission of the author. To read the full article please visit AltetrNet.

The Bush Administration and House Republicans led to the likely defeat of an election reform bill, HR 5036, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) that would have helped many counties and states buy voting machines with a paper trail before the fall presidential election. The bill, which also would pay for audits to check the accuracy of vote counts, was the first election integrity vote to come before the House in years.

According to Congressional Quarterly, "Democrats put the bill on the part of Tuesday's calendar used for non-controversial measures. It was brought up under suspension of the rules, which required a two-thirds vote for passage. But the final tally, 239-178, fell far short of the margin needed."

CQ
reported that Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee -- who supported the bill in committee -- said many GOP House members opposed the bill because of its price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimated its cost as high as $685 million after the committee approved the bill on April 2, although other estimates by its backers cited a much-lower figure.

"This bill would represent a real step forward in our effort to protect the accuracy, integrity and security of the November elections," Holt said, in a statement issued after the vote. The bill that the House leadership scheduled for a vote today is the same one that passed two weeks ago without the objection of a single Committee member. There is no reason why this should be a partisan issue but the Republicans evidently have chosen to make it so. The White House issued a statement opposing the bill and 176 of 203 Republicans voted that way."
 

According to Warren Stewart of the Verified Voting Foundation, the White House's opposition was the first time the Administration has weighed in on the election reform issue in years. "The Administration does not want to improve the accuracy and reliable of this November's elections," he said, noting that 16 Republicans voted for the bill, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) the fourth-ranking Republican in the House and National Republican Campaign Committee chair, whose job is to win GOP seats.

"The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 5036," the White House statement said. "First, the Administration opposes the bill's authorization of excessive spending for reimbursement to States for the costs of obtaining paper ballot voting systems and conducting audits or hand counting of election results. Approximately $3 billion in Federal grants have already been provided to States to upgrade their voting systems since 2002, including $115 million in 2008. More than $1 billion in unspent funds remains available and, in addition, States can retain interest earned on their unspent federal grants ... "

Holt responded to the GOP's main objection to the bill, its cost.

"I'd like to ask the opponents how much spending is too much to have verifiable elections in the United States," he said. "I note that many people who opposed this legislation supported spending almost $330 million in recent years to provide election assistance in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I would have hoped those who supported efforts to export democracy abroad would be equally committed to strengthening democracy here at home."

CQ
said Democratic leaders could still win House passage of the measure if they take it to the Rules Committee and return it to the floor under a rule. Then, it would need only a simple majority to pass.
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