Sweeping Election Reforms Signed into Law

 President Bush Signs Sweeping Election Reforms into Law

October 29

One week before the November 5 mid-term elections, President Bush signed into law the "Help America Vote Act of 2002". At the ceremony, Bush said that "Every registered voter deserves to have confidence that the system is fair and elections are honest, that every vote is recorded and that the rules are consistently applied. The legislation I sign today will add to the nation's confidence."

As reported by Reuters on October 29, "An estimated 2 million to 2.5 million of the more than 100 million votes cast in the 2000 election nationwide were never counted." Overseas voters, of course, fear that many of the uncounted ballots were theirs and have worked hard to see that procedures are put in place to get voting information and materials to them in time, that requirements are harmonized to make registering and voting less confusing, and that difficulties in voting from overseas are identified and progressively eliminated.

While not removing all obstacles, the new law is a major step forward, providing for:

  • the creation of a single state office responsible for overseas voters, but also for:
  • statistics on ballot applications and ballots sent out and received, and:
  • extension of the period covered by a single absentee ballot application to two regularly scheduled federal election cycles, in other words 4 years.

(For more details on the provisions that concern overseas voters, see {ln:Title VII on Voting Rights 'Title VII}).

The law authorizes $3.9 billion of federal spending in the next three years, essentially to help states replace punch-card and lever voting machines, to train poll workers and to establish computerized statewide lists of registered voters. Congress has not formally appropriated the money, however, although sponsors of the legislation said they believed it would do so. Obviously, as Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and dean of the Congressional Black Caucus worries, "Without funding, this bill is an empty shell."

FAWCO and all of our non-partisan organizations of overseas voters must continue to monitor the process of financing and implementing this legislation which, while it will have no effect in on the 2002 elections, can have a profound impact on our ability to have our voice heard in the 2004 elections.

Lucy L., U.S. Liaison

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