The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday December 1st

Price Works to Fix Election Problems

A special congressional committee held a hearing in Florida earlier this week on issues of election reform.

U.S. Rep. David Price, D-4th, has become a leader among members of Congress in reforming the American voting process.

Price, the co-chair of the Democrat's Special Committee on Election Reform, was in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday to hold a hearing on Florida's problems during the last election.

In February, the former Duke University professor and Chapel Hill resident was named to the eight-member special committee of congressional Democrats.

The hearing focused on issues such as recount procedures, confusing ballot design, malfunctioning voting equipment, irregular voter roll purges, unclear lines of authority among election personnel and inconsistent provisional balloting.

"The events in Florida during the last election exposed the problems in our voting system and highlighted the need for comprehensive election reform," Price said in his opening statement.

"There is room for improvement everywhere, and this committee is exploring how Congress can support efforts at every level of government to implement effective election reform in the short-term and beyond," he said.

One of the discussions at the hearing had to do with provisional balloting.

Provisional balloting allows someone to vote even if their name does not appear on the voter list at the poll site. Election officials would wait until confirmation that the voter is registered before counting their vote.

Provisional balloting varies from state to state. In North Carolina, for example, a voter would be able to cast a provisional ballot, but in some cases in Florida, people were turned away and not allowed to vote.

"Some have estimated one out of 10 votes were thrown out," said Price's spokesman, Thomas Bates said. "That's not acceptable."

About 300 people came to the hearing, Bates said. "(Price) was struck by the level of anger and frustration people showed."

The Special Committee on Election Reform has been traveling across the country, trying to gauge what concerns people have with the election process. They will later debate the issues in Congress to determine what further actions should take place.

In addition to taking part in the reform committee, Price has also drafted a bill that would provide money to help states install modern equipment such as optical-scanner systems. These systems are considered much more reliable than the punch-card balloting system that became so controversial in Florida.

The optical-scanner systems would cost $6,000 each, with most of the funding coming from federal money.

The machines would allow voters to correct their mistakes at the poll site. If a voter voted twice for governor, for example, the machine would let the voter know and they would be allowed to revote.

This type of voting system is used in Orange County, but there are still six counties in North Carolina that use punch-card voting machines.

The new system could be ready in time for the 2002 elections.

"I don't think anyone can justify having another election under (the current) circumstances," Bates said.

Under Price's bill, states would also receive money to use for voter education and for training poll workers.

Price has stepped into the forefront of the election reform issue, Bates said. "With legislation he's introduced and with his involvement in the election reform, he's been considered a leader in the election reform movement."

Matt Viser can be reached at viser@email.unc.edu.


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