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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Panel Discussion: “Election Reform: A Systematic Business Solution”

MR. GERENCSER:  Great.  Dr. Ornstein?

DR. ORNSTEIN:  Well, this is one of the major fault lines, obviously, in what’s going on in Congress.  Money will be another one.  I mean, there will be some money forthcoming, but obviously we are no longer awash in surpluses, and for anything that represents a public good now there’s going to be more intense competition.

The real fault line in the bills emerging in the House and Senate is what level of mandate.  The current House bill that will probably pass the House, really does not have any significant mandates beyond, at this point, at least, a fairly limited set of minimum standards.  The bill that emerged from the Rules Committee in the Senate, the Dodd bill, is filled with mandates and would basically divide along partisan lines.  It wouldn’t get through the Senate.  But it represents very intense feeling on the part of minorities especially that without some protection coming through mandates in a lot of places they will end up once again getting the shaft.

So the question is whether you can strike an appropriate balance that includes the kinds of things that Sharon is talking about, and some fairly stiff requirements that may not be one size fits all but that really require meeting standards, including standards for provisional voting and making sure that people are not intimidated. 

And now, because of the strong Republican concern about fraud, we may get tougher anti-fraud provisions pushed by Senator Bond, matched with a somewhat more modest set of standards.  But there will be standards and there is absolutely no doubt that any election bill that passes, if it’s going to involve federal money, is going to involve significant federal standards.

MR. GERENCSER:  Thank you.

Secretary Thornburgh, how do you feel about the notion of mandated standards?

SECRETARY THORNBURGH:  Boy.  I think we have to be careful and identify what we mean by mandates versus what we mean by standards.  And, quite frankly, that’s a debate that took about six months of the election community and the civil rights community coming together to figure out what we were saying to each other, actually.

And the mandates, at least in my vision, the mandates are simply when the federal government steps forward and says, this is what we expect you to do and this is how you’re going to do it – oh, by the way.  Whereas standards are the minimum output standards that would say, if you have this type of voting system, or regardless of what type of voting system you have, you need to insure that a voter casting a vote in Detroit does not have a greater opportunity for their vote to not be counted than someone using a different system in Kansas.

So if we can ensure that the standards are there for all systems, whether it be a hand-counted paper ballot or the latest touch screen systems, if we can ensure that the standards are in place that every single voter in America can be assured that their vote is going to be counted and accounted for in the way they intended to cast it, then I think those types of standards are acceptable.

The minimum standards of providing for a provisional ballet on election day is an acceptable standard.  A standard that we provide for statewide voter registration systems is an acceptable standard.  A standard that we insure that military and overseas others have their votes counted is an acceptable standard.

MR. GERENCSER:  Thank you.

Question to Mr. Walker or Mr. Mayer, do we think that standards by themselves can get the job done?
MR. WALKER:  Not by themselves.  Based upon the work that we’ve done, it seems that, frankly, the people issue is the number one issue.  The process issue is the number two issue.  And the technology issue is the number three issue.

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