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The Daily Tar Heel

2000 Election Irks, But Reform Unlikely

Chads, which are tiny pieces of paper meant to be punched out on a ballot, reached the national spotlight after voting problems in Florida left tens of thousands of votes uncountable.

Those votes would be crucial in deciding the outcome of the closest presidential race in U.S. history, as the candidate who took Florida also would take the Oval Office.

Political figures debated if the ballots with chads still attached should be counted and the criteria for counting them. Democratic and Republican lawsuits wound their way through the court system, as both sides tried to gain a victory for their candidate.

Comedians joked about kicking Florida out of the country -- just to end the voting confusion.

And through it all, the nation watched, waited and wondered who would become president.

The 36-day battle finally ended in December, when the U.S. Supreme Court in a split decision ordered that all hand counts in Florida cease.

That decision lead to Republican candidate George W. Bush taking the presidential oath in January instead of Democratic candidate Al Gore.

The ruling also triggered protests from Florida to Washington, D.C., calling for abolishing the Electoral College and changing voting laws.

State and national politicians vowed to reform the nation's electoral system, including buying new equipment to make chads extinct.

But then President Bush took office in January.

While some critics still question Bush's legitimacy as president, the national spotlight has shifted to the new president's job performance, including his $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal and rocky Sino-U.S. diplomatic relations.

Some of the biggest national advocates for election reform have focused their attention on reducing the Bush tax cut, leaving electoral reform to the state realm.

Duke political science Professor John Aldrich said politicians tend to focus on more immediate problems, like writing budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, before focusing on long-range policies like election reform.

"Short-range proposals carry more weight with voters than something that's long-term like voting," Aldrich said.

He added that it is unlikely there would be any significant changes to the voting system on a nationwide level.

But some political science professors say the demand for election reform has merely shifted from the U.S. capitol to state legislatures.

High Point University political science Professor Linda Petrou said there are several efforts on the state level to reform voting, most of which involve buying updated voting equipment.

The Florida House recently approved a bill providing $20 million to help counties eliminate "punch-card" ballots and replace them with optical-scan machinery.

"Punch-card" ballots led to the infamous dangling chad, which caused so many problems and lawsuits during the 2000 presidential election.

The bill must be approved by the state Senate and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Proposed election reforms in North Carolina also call for eliminating the "punch-card" ballots.

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But Petrou said it is doubtful North Carolina could fund a similar effort due to the state budget deficit, which is nearly $800 million.

But there are several bills in the N.C. General Assembly trying to reform the state's election laws, including one that would change how North Carolina allocates Electoral College votes -- changing from the current winner-take-all system to a proportional method based on congressional districts.

Under the proposal, presidential candidates would receive one Electoral College vote for every congressional district they win.

The candidate who receives the most votes in the state would win two at-large electoral votes.

The bill has passed the N.C. Senate. To become law, it still must be approved by the House and Gov. Mike Easley.

Petrou said efforts on the state level to reform the Electoral College were more likely to succeed than a federal effort because changing the College on a nationwide basis would require a constitutional amendment.

She added that federal voting standards, in the U.S. House and Senate, also would face similar problems.

"The Constitution leaves the power of conducting elections up to states," Petrou said. "That means there are 50 different states with 50 different election laws. Florida alone has something like 67 counties, and they have 67 different election laws."

She said that so many diverse election laws would make it difficult to compile useful federal voting regulations.

Several states, including Georgia and Maryland, passed statewide voting standards after the election controversy.

But Petrou said North Carolina would not follow their lead. "People seem to like (the N.C.) electoral system the way it is, the legislators especially."

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