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Democrats Try to Salvage Election Reform Bill

House Democratic leaders worked Thursday to salvage an election reform bill that has come under sharp criticism from some of their own Members and state and local governments worried about costs and upheaval this close to the 2008 balloting.

The House Rules Committee adjourned Wednesday without passing a rule on the bill, with Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) among those criticizing portions of it. Slaughter said Thursday that the bill was being reworked to address Member concerns, and said it could come to the committee as early as Friday morning and to the House floor on Monday.

Slaughter said her concerns have been appeased because leadership agreed to allow New York to continue using lever voting machines until the 2010 elections.

Slaughter also dismissed suggestions by Republican aides that the delay and changes showed a breakdown by Democrats. “Democrats do that,” she said of the alterations to the bill. “We believe in democracy. We allow people to talk and they even sway us.”

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), is aimed at requiring verifiable paper receipts and audits for electronic voting machines in time for next year’s presidential election.

Holt acknowledged that numerous Members want various exemptions to the requirements, and others aren’t happy because the bill will not ban electronic voting machines outright.

Holt attributed the delays in bringing forward the bill, which Holt said he had hoped would have become law months or years ago, to the numerous suggestions from Members. “There’s no shortage of opinions about how to provide a verifiable, auditable election,” he said.

But Holt said passing the bill is important to prevent a repeat of the disputed 2000 election. “I’m quite sure there will be hell to pay. There will be disputed votes in many parts of the country,” he said.

States have fretted, however, that changing their voting processes so close to an election would undermine confidence rather than enhance it, and fear Congress will not ultimately reimburse states for the costs of the changes.

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