May 4 , 2005: NORTON BILL AIMS TO ELIMINATE PROBLEMS SHE WITNESSED IN 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Jan 10, 2006
Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 4, 2005

NORTON BILL AIMS TO ELIMINATE PROBLEMS SHE WITNESSED IN 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Washington, DC—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today introduced a bill to improve the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) with amendments that arise from problems in the District last November and from her own campaigning in other parts of the country for the Democratic presidential ticket last year.  Her bill addresses long lines, voters not permitted to cast ballots, and returned absentee ballots.   

The Norton bill, in three parts, begins with an amendment to HAVA, responding to long lines here and throughout the country by requiring states to allow counties or subdivisions upon request to begin voting prior to the scheduled date of the election.  Norton said that long lines may have deterred significant numbers of voters and “early voting” could provide a practical remedy at little cost.  Differences from county to county in income levels, tax bases, and other issues often result in large disparities in the availability of voting machines in the same state.  In the pivotal state of Ohio, which determined the outcome of the close 2004 presidential election, the controversy was deepened by reports that lines were particularly long in counties where there were large minority populations compared with largely white counties.  “Changes only in the date of voting can help eliminate these disparities and the lines that discourage the exercise of the right to vote, without the often significant additional capital investment in new equipment,” Norton said.  

A second section of Norton’s bill responds to calls to her office concerning absentee ballots which inadvertently did not include postage, or had insufficient postage. This section requires officials to accept such absentee ballots. Mistakes may result from not attaching enough postage to a large or heavy ballot in the envelope. The cost to authorities, if any, would be minimal even without proper postage.  

Section 3 amends HAVA to eliminate the confusion when first-time or infrequent voters or others go to incorrect voting sites or when the usual voting site has been changed.  To encourage voting, voters registered anywhere in the state could cast a provisional ballot and have it counted and verified. However, voters would be told the correct polling site, allowing them to go there and avoid any doubt that their ballots would be counted. 

In her introductory statement, Norton said, “The 2000 presidential election was a calamity of such historic proportions that it cast doubt on the validity of one American election of the President of the United Statesand led to the enactment of HAVA.  The continuing problems in the 2004 elections were serious, unacceptable, and controversial.  Although that election also was close, it did not have the razor thin margin of 2000 that delayed certification and settlement of the final result through a Supreme Court decision.  However, the 2004 elections were another close call that yielded bitter controversy.  Congress must be willing to learn from our continuing experience to make improvements in protecting the right to vote as they are needed.  My bill simply uses the experience from my own district and elsewhere to contribute to this effort.”  

Norton also is an original cosponsor of the comprehensive Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2005 (H.R.533), introduced by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers to also update HAVA.