Election Law Backers Hope Recall Opens Funding Window

For Immediate Release:

October 6, 2003

Contact:John Cochran

CQ

With California's gubernatorial recall putting punch-card ballots and potential "hanging chads" back in the spotlight, the sponsors of last year's election overhaul law (PL 107-252) are trying to tack $1.86 billion for the initiative onto the Iraq spending bill the House begins work on this week.

The money sought by Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., would fully fund the election law (PL 107-252) a year early. If they succeed, states would get all the money that Congress promised before the 2004 elections.

Their chances may depend in part on how the balloting goes in California. If punch-card ballots there cause problems reminiscent of Florida's 2000 election debacle, it could give new momentum to the effort to fix the nuts and bolts of the nation's election system.

Otherwise, Ney and Hoyer face an uphill battle. House Appropriations Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., has said he wants to keep the $87 billion draft Iraq supplemental bill free of add-ons.

Both the House and Senate versions of the Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill (HR 2989) would provide $500 million in funding for states. The amount Ney and Hoyer are seeking would be on top of that.

Across the Capitol, an aide to one of the law's Senate sponsors, Democrat Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, said Dodd has so far failed to spark much interest in boosting the funding. Dodd, too, would like to see full funding this year.

Shana Stribling, spokeswoman for another Senate sponsor, Republican Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said they have not been approached by Dodd with any specific proposals but would be willing to consider ideas for fully funding the law.

Efforts to reach staff members for the other Senate sponsor, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were unsuccessful. McConnell and Hoyer intervened with President Bush earlier this year to boost the funding for the first year of the overhaul effort.

Ney said Monday that he is optimistic they can attach the money to some bill before Congress adjourns for the year. He and Hoyer are lobbying the White House to get the administration's support for the extra money.

States need money now if they are to have any hope of making major fixes at the polls before the 2004 elections, Ney said. "We have a wide variety of bills," he said. "Congress can work its magic and we can get it done."

The law authorized $3.9 billion in grants to the states over three years for upgrades to voting equipment, creating statewide voter registration databases and meeting new national election standards. For fiscal 2003, Congress was authorized to provide about $2.1 billion to the states, and appropriated $1.5 billion.

Enforcement of the law also has been hampered by delays in filling the four seats on a new Election Assistance Commission, which is to oversee distribution of federal grants and help states meet standards. Most significantly, $833 million in grants — part of the $1.5 billion provided in 2003 — has been stuck with no one to distribute it.

Bush nominated the four commissioners — two from each party, chosen by congressional leaders — on Oct. 3. The nominations go to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and must be confirmed by the full Senate before the commission can begin its work.

In hopes of freeing up the rest of the fiscal 2003 money more quickly, Hoyer has attached an amendment to the House version of the Transportation-Treasury bill that would allow the General Services Administration to distribute the money until the commission is established.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., asked the Department of Justice on Monday to monitor the California recall election to be sure that minority voters in particular are treated fairly. The Justice Department would not comment.