STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTION
By Mr. McCONNELL (for himself and Mr. BOND):
S. 414. A bill to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to protect the right of Americans to vote through the prevention of voter fraud, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Rules and Administration.
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Voter Protection Act of 2005, and I am pleased to be joined again by my good friend from Missouri, Senator Bond. I also acknowledge the deep interest and expertise of the occupant of the chair in this important subject of how we have increasingly honest elections in our country.
In the wake of the 2000 election, as chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, and then its ranking member, Senators BOND, DODD, and I worked together to address the problems brought to light in the 2000 elections. In January of 2001, I introduced the first of what would become several election reform bills. Nearly 2 years later, all the hard work and long hours paid off with the President of the United States signing the Help America Vote Act of 2002, commonly referred to as HAVA.
This legislation passed with near unanimous support in both Chambers. HAVA set forth several minimum standards for States to meet and was coupled with a new Election Assistance Commission to provide advice and distribute $3 billion to date. The goal was and is to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
The 2004 elections were the first conducted under HAVA. There are reports of many successes attributable to HAVA, including a new Cal-Tech/MIT study, which found a decrease in the residual vote rate, or ballots that did not record a vote for President. Further, there were new requirements for identification while registering or, at the polls, new voting technology, statewide databases, and a broad Federal requirement for the casting of provisional ballots.
HAVA was a tremendous success, but all of the cosponsors were careful to avoid a complete Federal takeover of elections. As was stated by prominent election expert Doug Lewis, after conducting elections for over 200 years, State and local officials didn't become stupid in just one election. Throughout the bill, we remained respectful of the States rights and left methods of implementation to the discretion of States.
Today, we bring before this body a new piece of legislation which builds upon the successes of HAVA and clarifies some of the misinterpretations that occurred in the last election. This bill provides State and local officials more tools to ensure every eligible voter casts their vote, but make sure it is counted only once.
First, the most important part of this election process is an accurate and secure registration list. This legislation clarifies several provisions related to ensuring that those who register are legally entitled to do so, do so only once, and in only one State. Further, we address the problem brought about by voter registration drives which dumped impossible numbers of new registrations on the last day of registration. The bill ensures that only real-life, eligible Mary Poppins registers to vote.
Second, the process of actually casting a ballot is sacred to all Americans. The legislation will ensure accurate poll lists and photo identification at the polls, and will reaffirm HAVA's goal of permitting State law to govern counting provisional ballots.
Further, for absentee ballots, having them returned by election day and requiring authentication of their request is critical. Thus, if a real, eligible, registered Mary Poppins goes to the polls, she can show identification and vote--but just once.
Third, grant money will be available to pay for photo identification for those who don't have one or cannot afford one. The Election Assistance Commission will conduct a pilot program for the use of indelible ink at the polls, reminiscent of the Iraqi elections on January 30. We were all moved by the picture we saw from the Iraqi elections of voters proudly showing their ink-sustained fingers. Aside from being an act of national pride, it was also an act to ensure that all those who voted did so only once.
Lastly, the 2004 elections saw new tactics which must be addressed by new criminal penalties for buying and conspiring to buy voter registrations. Further, the destruction or damaging of property with intent to impede voting is something that must be prosecuted.
Again, I am proud to have been the Senate Republican sponsor of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and believe it has and will continue to improve the conduct of elections in this country. But much more needs to be done. The Voter Protection Act of 2005 builds upon that important piece of legislation to combat voter fraud and ensure the integrity of the entire election process.
I know Senator Bond, a cosponsor, is on the way to the floor. I commend him for his important contribution to HAVA. I repeat my earlier comments about the occupant of the chair and his expertise and interest in this issue. We look forward to working with both of them to advance a piece of legislation for America that would make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, if I can very briefly say to my good friend and colleague from Missouri, it is a pleasure to team up with him once again in our pursuit of better elections in this country and to report to him on the prosecution front there actually was a conviction. I know the occupant of the Chair is interested in this as well. There actually was a conviction in my State for vote fraud--two of them--over the last 6 months. We will see whether that has an impact on habits of many decades that exist in my State and I know in several parts of the State of Missouri as well.
I congratulate the Senator for his statement.