WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- Senate Republicans and Democrats are working on a compromise to save an election reform bill that stalled Friday because Republicans felt it was not tough enough on voter fraud.
The bill, designed to help prevent a repeat of the 2000 presidential election debacle, was in limbo after a Senate vote to end debate came up 49 to 39, short of the 60 votes needed to move the measure to a final vote.
The defeat came as a surprise, as most observers expected the bill to easily pass the Senate. The last minute dispute came over the use of voter identification requirements to prevent fraud at the polls. Republicans argued for more stringent requirements while Democrats wanted them eased and forced an impasse late in the week.
After two full days of Senate inaction, as leaders from both parties attempted to find a compromise on the issue, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., allowed the bill to lose the closure vote, which would have ended debate.
If Senate leaders are unable to agree to a compromise in the coming days, it could serve as a defeat for both parties in light of the bipartisan voter frustration with the last presidential election, which was plagued by recounts, unsubstantiated allegations of fraud and widespread failures by voting equipment in Florida.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who led the Republican effort on the bill, had expressed general support for the measure but late in the week said it was not worth passing without the anti-fraud provisions.
Led by Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Democrats succeeded Wednesday in protecting an amendment that would have allowed first-time voters to be verified with only a signature, while Republicans fought to require a photo identification, pay stub or utility bill.
Immediately after the vote, senators began to meet in private to work out an agreement or to plot the next course of action. Negotiations face a deadline, however, as the Senate is expected to deliberate on a campaign finance reform measure nest week.