Report Recommends U.S. Election Improvements

Former President Carter and James A. Baker III have released a report on election improvements. The recommendations include requiring photo IDs and holding four regional primary elections after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

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For US elections, photo ID cards are among the recommendations from a commission headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker. The bipartisan panel also suggested more uniformity in election laws to eliminate some confusion for voters at the polls. The commission, sponsored by American University, presented its findings today to President Bush and congressional leaders. Some of the proposals drew immediate fire from voting rights advocates, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

The independent commission said it found an election system still marred by confusing rules, inefficiencies and low public confidence five years after the Florida recount. Former President Carter said the panel's 87 recommendations, if adopted by Congress and the states, could help fix that.

Former President JIMMY CARTER: We want to have maximum opportunity for everyone in America who's qualified to vote and to register easily and not to be deprived of that opportunity.

FESSLER: The commission called on states to fix their voter registration lists, which officials admit are riddled with inaccuracies, in part, because Americans move so much. The commission also called for voter-verified paper ballot backups on electronic voting machines to improve voter confidence and make recounts easier. And, it said, election officials should not be affiliated with political campaigns.

But the panel's most controversial proposal is the ID requirement. President Carter said he was initially opposed but decided a national standard is needed because many states are already moving in that direction.

Pres. CARTER: Some states have passed abominable laws that are a disgrace to democracy and to our country. Georgia, my own home state, is one of those. It is highly discriminatory and, in my personal opinion, directly designed to deprive older people, African-Americans, poor people of a right to vote.

FESSLER: He said Georgia voters must pay for their ID cards and there are limited places to get them. The commission proposed instead that states require voters to show their driver's licenses and that those without driver's licenses be given a free photo ID. Former Secretary of State Baker said the commission's plan should improve voter access.

Former Secretary JAMES BAKER (US State Department): Anyone who receives this photo ID will automatically be registered to vote, and we don't foresee the possibility that voting clerks, voting registrars will be able to turn someone down.

FESSLER: But that's not what many voting rights advocates think. Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan said the ID requirement is like a poll tax on the poor.

Representative JOHN CONYERS (Democrat, Michigan): It's going to disenfranchise exactly who President Carter is trying to help, namely the poor, the disabled, elderly, students and people of color.

FESSLER: All those, he says, who don't have driver's licenses or easy access to the documents needed for an ID card. Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, also says there's little evidence of widespread voter fraud. That's the reason often given for the need to require ID.

Ms. BARBARA ARNWINE (Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights): But what the evidence does point to is that if you have these measures, a good 12 percent of all the voting populace would, in fact, be adversely affected.

FESSLER: Carter and Baker disagree, noting that they've proposed several ways to ease the requirement. For example, those without photo IDs would still be allowed to vote provisionally until the year 2010. Under that plan, their votes would be counted once their signatures at the polling place are matched with those on file. But Arnwine and others say that's a poor solution, noting that there was widespread confusion last year over the use of provisional ballots. Some states only counted those cast in a voter's precinct, while other states had more liberal standards. And on this issue the commissioners couldn't agree. They said states should have uniform rules for provisional ballots, but they didn't say what they should be. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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