Florida, Ohio Election Officials Boycott Congressional Probe

Starting on a sour note, lawmakers holding the first congressional review of the 2004 vote were upset by the absence of top election officials from Ohio and Florida, states with many balloting complaints.

The chairman of the House Administration Committee said he would hold hearings away from Washington and continue to seek testimony from Ohio’s secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell, and Florida’s Glenda Hood.

“I am disappointed that they are not here,” said Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. “We can have disagreements, but you can’t run and you can’t hide.”

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said “the arrogance of these secretaries of state to not be here today is an affront.”

Blackwell was in the capital, where he led a meeting of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. He said he already had agreed to attend that meeting before the House committee asked him to appear.

“I don’t know why there would be any hand wringing or foot stomping. The Ohio story is probably the most widely told story in the country,” Blackwell said. He pledged that someone from Ohio – though not necessarily him – would go before the committee, which oversees election issues.

Hood had a previously scheduled speech before the British-American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida on Wednesday, which the committee was told about, spokeswoman Jenny Nash said. Hood “welcomes any opportunity to discuss Florida’s success during the 2004 election,” Nash said.

The hearing was intended to examine the successes and failures of a law passed after Florida’s disputed voting in the 2000 presidential election. The law created the Election Assistance Commission to distribute money to states and oversee election standards.

The commission found many successes from the past election, such as more voters using provisional ballots and electronic voting machines. But it also says more money is needed to complete voter databases, buy voting machines and perform other upgrades by 2006.

Secretaries of state from Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico and Iowa said their states registered record numbers of voters, expanded voter education programs and poll worker training, made more polling places accessible to the disabled and replaced old voting machines.

“Our system, certainly, is not perfect,” said Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, a Republican. “But, overall, last November’s election was successful. The reforms are working.”

The officials took issue with legislation that would standardize elections. Over the weekend, the National Association of Secretaries of State passed a resolution over the weekend asking Congress to dissolve the new election commission after it finishes its work.

“I was shocked, surprised, just because I didn’t see it coming and don’t agree with it,” Ney said. “I understand your motivation. It’s a horrific balance.”

Already, the commission has distributed $2.2 billion of $3 billion set aside for states. The money helped some states install new electronic or optical scan machines before the Nov. 2 election.

The hearing came as congressional investigators, responding to complaints from around the country, look into the malfunctions of voting machines and handling of provisional ballots during last year’s

Lawsuits over provisional voting were filed in at least five states, most notably Ohio, Michigan and Missouri.

On the Net:

Election Assistance Commission: http://www.eac.gov/

House Administration Committee: http://www.house.gov/cha/

© 2005 The Associated Press