As many as 6 million votes might have been lost in the 2000 election, according to a study by two universities released Tuesday.
The report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology blames flawed voting technology and registration problems for the undervotes.
"This study shows that the voting problem is much worse than we expected," said CalTech president David Baltimore. "It is remarkable that we in America put up with a system where as many as six out of every hundred voters are unable to get their vote counted."
It finds that 1.5 million presidential votes might have been lost, while up to 3 million eligible voters may not have registered because of problems in the registration system.
Eight months after the presidential election showed the nation deep flaws in the way it votes, the CalTech-MIT study is just one of several efforts to figure out what's wrong with the voting system, and suggest ways to fix it.
Ideas put forth so far range from establishing a permanent federal program to help pay for voter education to encouraging each polling place to offer provisional ballots for people who don't appear on election rolls. That would save their votes in case they are actually registered.
"These are exceptionally important," said Philip Zelikow, director of an elections commission overseen by Presidents Carter and Ford. "Right now we're in the midst of a ferment, a once-a-generation ferment. And 10 years from now, we may have transformed the way we conduct elections."
By summer's end, new reports will lso lay out the perspective on top-to-bottom reform as seen by local and state election administrators, county officials and state legislators. Another two reports will aim to pull together diverging views.
They all follow several recent studies, including two reports that found minorities suffered inordinately from voting problems in Florida and nationwide.
A consensus on how to fix the system has yet to emerge. But some points of agreement are becoming clear, such as:
- Expanding voter education and support at the polls, with a greater commitment from local, state and federal governments.
- Launching a national effort to track the best voting machines and ballot designs.
- Ensuring voters aren't left out, whether through faults in registration systems, glitches on Election Day, or problems with overseas or absentee voters.
While there is wide agreement that federal money is needed to buy better voting machines and improve overall elections support, state and local governments also don't want to lose control.
So far this year, Florida, Georgia and Maryland have approved sweeping improvements in their voting systems; most other states have made smaller changes or are studying the issue. Congress has yet to approve any reform bills.
To find common ground on some contentious issues, top election officials plan to meet with civil rights groups next month, said Arkansas Secretary of State Sharon Priest, outgoing president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.
In the next few weeks, new studies or recommendations will also be released by the National Conference of State Legislatures; the Constitution Project, a bipartisan group; the Elections Center, a nonpartisan group of local and state election officials; and the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, overseen by Carter and Ford.
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