Ford-Carter election-overhaul panel recommends national holiday for voting

WASHINGTON (AP) - A commission chaired by former Presidents Carter and Ford recommends turning Election Day into a national holiday and says voters challenged by poll workers should be allowed to cast provisional ballots, their validity to be determined later.

The panel, as part of its 13 policy recommendations, expressed concern about doing away with punchcard ballots, the voting system that sparked much of the controversy in last fall's Florida election recount, according to a summary obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The 19-member National Commission on Federal Election Reform also said in the report being released Tuesday that states should establish their own statewide systems for voter registration.

But it urges Congress to set up a new Election Administration Commission that would establish voluntary standards for those state systems and testing for them. The standards should include allowing voters to correct errors and ensuring that disabled voters can cast their ballots in secret.

''Let the states run it; don't make Washington the umpire between states and counties or among the counties in a state,'' the report says.

The panel urges Congress to offer $1 billion to $2 billion over two or three years in matching grants to states willing to upgrade their elections systems.

The commission also recommends that states restore voting rights to convicted felons once they have fully served their sentence.

The panel split on the thorny issue of whether Congress should set specific election standards for states to follow. Commission member Christopher Edley Jr. said he and five members - all Democrats - wanted ''a stronger federal role.'' The report says that the ''commission as a whole takes no position.''

The report also suggests moving the Veterans Day holiday during even-numbered years to the first Tuesday in November to ''increase the availability of poll workers and suitable polling places.'' Such a move ''might make voting easier for some workers,'' the report says.

The private commission, a project of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, began its work earlier this year after disputes over Florida's ballots delayed the nation from knowing the winner of last year's presidential election for 36 days.

Both Carter and Ford took an active role in the deliberations, chairing hearings and listening to testimony. Carter even chaired the panel's final deliberations on July 10, a marathon session that lasted more than nine hours.

Carter and former House GOP Leader Bob Michel are scheduled to present the commission's 100-page report at the White House to President Bush, who waged a marathon recount campaign against Vice President Al Gore over the disputed Florida results. Ford's office said he had a scheduling conflict.

Carter was quoted in an article last week criticizing Bush's positions on missile defense, Alaska oil drilling and global warming and said he has been ''disappointed in almost everything he has done.'' In a follow-up statement, Carter said he respected Bush despite their ''honest differences of opinion.'' The White House declined to comment directly to either statement.

The suggestion of establishing provisional balloting arose out of complaints in Florida from some voters, many of them black, that they were wrongly turned away at the polls. With provisional ballots, people who don't appear on election rolls but say they are eligible could vote. Election officials would determine later the validity of those ballots.

According to the summary, eliminating punchcard ballot systems could drive jurisdictions to purchase other voting systems like optical scan machines that might not improve the situation. Optical scan machines are opposed by advocates for the blind and disabled.

''And not all punchcard systems are so bad,'' the summary says.

Many lawmakers have floated the idea of getting rid of the punchcard systems, in which voters poke holes next to their preferred candidates, in favor of newer technology. In Florida, there was much dispute about ballots that were thrown out because holes were not punched all the way through.

But the commission said, ''There's evidence of a bigger payoff, per dollar spent, in voter education and pollworker training.''

The summary also said a punchcard buyout ''could actually make financial problems worse for cash-strapped counties. If money is used to buy optical scanners, the big cost is in buying all those ballots year after year.''

The report also discusses the effect of early media calls on elections. It requests voluntary actions such as news organizations refraining from calling presidential elections until 11 p.m. EST. If news organizations fail to comply, the report says Congress should consider enacting legislation.

Both the House and Senate have held hearings this year on that subject, but no legislative proposals have been advanced by any committees.

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