House panel plans hearings on Nov. 2 voting problems

WASHINGTON -- Problems at the polls and allegations of other irregularities in the Nov. 2 election are gaining serious attention in the nation's capital.

The House Administration Committee, which produced the Help Americans Vote Act, or HAVA, after the disputed 2000 result, will hold hearings in the new year on how well the $3.9 billion reforms worked. The panel will examine a wide range of new allegations about fraud and mismanagement, according to Chairman Robert Ney, R-Ohio, and John Larson, D-Conn., the ranking minority member.

In some cases, the purported abuses could have helped re-elect President Bush. In others, they might have benefited his challenger, Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Ney said the hearings, which will start early after Congress convenes in January, "will be extensive."

'Far from perfect'

In addition, the bipartisan Election Assistance Commission, which was established under HAVA, will meet Tuesday to review complaints of voting "anomalies" and plan further action, said Kay Stimson, a commission spokeswoman.

"We have no investigative or rule-making authority, but we are tracking the anomalies and we are tasked with updating voting equipment standards. We have asked the states to provide us with information on what happened," Stimson said.

Most state election officials have not yet certified their election results, and the Electoral College will not meet to cast the official ballots in the presidential election until Dec. 13.

"This was far from a perfect election," said Kay Maxwell, president of the League of Women Voters, who has called for an investigation into continuing voter registration problems and the long lines and delays that confronted many voters, particularly in Ohio, the pivotal state in determining the outcome.

Welcoming the House hearings and the Election Assistance Commission plans for follow-up, Lloyd Leonard, the league's advocacy director, said, "These are good first steps. They will have a lot of work to do."

"The election was badly underfunded and understaffed," he said. "Something was wrong at the polling places. It is unconscionable to wait two hours to vote, let alone six hours, which is what happened in some places in Ohio. They should determine if those lines were only in some areas but not others and where there was any partisan pattern of unequal treatment."

Maxwell said states and localities should also pursue their own examinations of Election Day problems.