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Published: Tuesday, 4/3/2001

So much for voting reform

Back in mid-December, before the smoke had even cleared from the fiasco nostalgically referred to by some as Election 2000, we suggested that the way to make sure the presidential selection process was never again sullied by a ballot-counting disaster was to make voting booth reform the first priority of the new Congress and President.

Now all the promises of bipartisanship and civility have evaporated and Congress can't even decide on the makeup of its select committee on election reform. The collapse of this effort could mean that modernization of voting and vote counting will have to be carried out piecemeal by the states, an unlikely avenue for genuine national reform.

Nothing is happening in Congress because House Republicans don't want to even utter the word election for fear it might renew questions about the legitimacy of the Bush presidency. And Democrats are still boiling about how, in their view, George W. was escorted into the White House by five members of the Supreme Court.

The bottom line, after weeks of wrangling: Democrats wanted the committee to be equally divided, party-wise, while Republicans, who narrowly control the House, insisted they have at least a one-vote majority on the panel. This state of gridlock does not bode well for any election legislation, which members surmised would be handled by the select committee.

Among the states, only Florida and Georgia have made serious attempts to rid the polling booths of the outmoded and error-prone punch-card equipment. And Florida's effort was blunted when Republican legislative leaders summarily dismissed as too expensive a $200 million upgrade of voting systems proposed by much-maligned Secretary of State Katherine Harris. In Ohio, the only step taken so far has been to codify voting rules set down years ago by the Secretary of State.

Such half-hearted action, and simple inaction by Congress, is not what Americans had in mind after last year's presidential election debacle. The wounds left behind by the 36-day vote count - a long national nightmare if there ever was one - will be a long time healing.

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