Election reform bill stalls in Senate

By P. MITCHELL PROTHERO  |  March 1, 2002 at 10:56 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- Despite the political benefit of passing a bill designed to help prevent a repeat of the 2000 Presidential election debacle, Senate Republicans decided to effectively kill an election reform measure because it was not tough enough on voter fraud prevention. The 49 to 39 vote failed to muster enough support to end debate and move to final passage.

The defeat came as a surprise as most observers expected the bill to easily pass the Senate, but a last minute dispute over voter identification requirements -- Republicans argued for more stringent requirements, while Democrats wanted them eased -- suddenly 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, Daschle essentially admitted defeat and allowed the bill to lose a cloture vote, which would have ended debate. 60 votes are needed for cloture.

If Senate leaders are unable to come 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 lead 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. But the negotiations face a deadline as the Senate is expected to deliberate on a campaign finance reform measure nest week.

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