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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bush Signs Election Reform Legislation

Aired October 29, 2002 - 11:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are exactly one week away from Election Day. And on this day, President Bush is actually signing election reform legislation, and we're going to be seeing that live in just a few minutes from the White House from Washington, D.C., and we can see people getting together there.
Let's bring in our Bill Schneider while we're waiting. I think we're getting like a two-minute warning on this event that's starting to take place.

Bill, as I understand it, this is in reaction to what took place in 2000 with exactly what happened in Florida and across the country and trying to keep election problems like that from happening again.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and ironically, it took two years for this bill to be passed and put on the president's desk. It's an elaborate compromise between Republicans, who wanted to make sure that there were guarantees against voter fraud, and Democrats, who wanted to make it easier to vote.

This will give states and localities some money to buy better voting machines. But you know what? In Florida this year, they had better voting machines, and then they discovered they had another problem. They didn't have people who could work them. They didn't have trained poll workers, volunteers who have to work 16 hours to make those machines work. They couldn't even turn them on. So, there's a long way to go before we straighten out this voting system.

KAGAN: Well, you know, we've been seeing a lot of these commercials here in Georgia, because they're going to be changing a lot of the voting machines here, too. We're going to electronic. And they show all different types of people using the machines. An older woman comes on and says, "If you can use a microwave, you can vote" -- trying to encourage people to be comfortable with the new technology.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, but as everybody knows who has bought a new computer or even a new telephone, it's real complicated, and you've got to read the instruction book. And when they just installed these machines -- which will not be there, of course, in time for next Tuesday...

KAGAN: Right.

SCHNEIDER: ... the bill is only being signed today. So, this doesn't really mean anything for the election next week. But once those machines are in place, you've got to find people who know how to work them. KAGAN: And you make a good point. This is not for next week, but we're looking ahead to 2004, another congressional election, and more importantly as far as President Bush is concerned, probably his re-election bid.

SCHNEIDER: That's right, and he is expected to run for re- election. It's crucial for him. He is not on the ballot this time, but he is putting his prestige on the line by going around the country and campaigning heavily for Republicans. There's some risk of him doing that, because you know, since September 11, 2001, he's been kind of above politics. Well, he's very much in the political fray this year.

KAGAN: I think he's only taking these two days off from the road from all of the campaigning that he's been doing. We saw him in the West. And where is his next stop? Where does he go?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I thought he was going to end up in Florida for a bit. I'm not sure that's confirmed. I don't know his detailed schedule, but he's been hop-scotching all over the country, really campaigning and raising money for Republican candidates everywhere, because look, Democrats don't have anybody who can compete with him for popularity, for prestige. They've got Al Gore, who is controversial, Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle -- nobody can compete with George Bush.

KAGAN: No, and it looks like the president has entered the room, saying some greetings, working his way down the line.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

KAGAN: And it looks like he'll have a few words to say, because I see the podium set up.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. This, of course, is an issue critical to him because, of course, the controversy in the Florida recount in 2000. And they want to make sure that people know that progress is being made.

But oddly, it took two full years, because both parties have a desperate political interest in making sure nothing is done to hurt their prospects.

KAGAN: Let's listen to the president.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Be seated, please. Thank you. Thanks for coming. Good morning.

Before we begin today, I would like to pause and remember a devoted public servant who was taken from us last Friday, along with his wife and his daughter and several other members -- several other Americans. Paul Wellstone was a deeply principled and a good-hearted man. He'll be missed by all who knew him and by all who had the privilege of serving with him. So before we begin, would you join me in a moment of silence in honor of his memory.

Today, I am proud to sign into law an important reform for our nation. Americans are a self-governing people, and the central commitment of self-government is free and fair elections.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 is a bipartisan measure to help states and localities update their systems of voting and ensure the integrity of elections in America.

The commission that helped inspire this legislation was led by two exceptional Americans with broad experience in public service: our 38th and 39th presidents. Although Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter could not be here today, our nation is grateful for their work on election reform and for all they have given to America.

We're pleased, however, to be joined by the co-chairmen of the commission, former Congressman Bob Michel of Illinois, former presidential counsel Lloyd Cutler. Thank you both for coming and thank you for your good work.

I also appreciate...

(APPLAUSE)

I also want to thank the members of Congress who are here with us today. I particularly want to thank Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Bob Ney for their hard work on this legislation.

(APPLAUSE)

I appreciate Senators Mitch McConnell and Kit Bond for joining us. I appreciate Jim Langevin from Rhode Island for coming, and I'm honored that Connie Morella from Maryland is with us as well. And Steny Hoyer from Maryland has joined us as well. These members worked hard, along with the chairman, John Conyers, from the state of Michigan.

(APPLAUSE)

The members didn't get discouraged. They worked through the issues. And they produced a really good piece of legislation. I'm proud to be able to sign this bill.

I also want to thank the four secretaries of state from around the country who have joined us. I appreciate you taking time to witness this important -- the signing of this important piece of legislation.

The vitality of America's democracy depends on the fairness and accuracy of America's elections. Over two centuries, our country has broadened the right to vote and sealed that right in law, making our government more accountable to the people and more representative of the people. When problems arise in the administration of elections, we have a responsibility to fix them. Every registered voter deserves to have confidence that the system is fair and elections are honest, that every vote is recorded and that the rules are consistently applied.

The legislation I sign today will add to the nation's confidence. Each state will be required to maintain a clean and current and accurate statewide list of registered voters, making it easier to register and easier to detect fraud. Under this law, people registering to vote are required to prove that they are who they say they are with appropriate identification. First-time voters who register by mail will be asked to provide identification when they cast their ballots.

This law also creates new criminal penalties for providing false information and punishes anyone guilty of conspiracy to deprive voters of a fair election.

Each polling place must have at least one voting machine accessible to persons with disabilities.

When people show up at the polls and their voting registration is in doubt, they should not be turned away, but allowed to cast a provisional ballot so their vote can be counted if it is later verified that they are properly registered.

And every state must have a fair procedure for hearing and resolving voter complaints.

Under these reforms, training and education will be provided to poll workers and voters, reducing the possibility of confusion and error at the polls.

Along with the resources come high standards for the integrity of elections. States must ensure that voting systems have minimal rates of error and allow voters a reasonable opportunity to review their ballots and correct any mistakes before a vote is cast.

The administration of elections is primarily a state and local responsibility. The fairness of all elections, however, is a national priority. And through these reforms, the federal government will help state and local officials to conduct elections that have the confidence of all Americans.

We're counting on these officials to meet their responsibilities, to protect the sanctity of the vote, and to encourage Americans to exercise the right to vote.

All of us in America have a duty to vote. I urge all Americans to show up for this election cycle on November 5 to do their duty as Americans, to recognize in a free society we have a responsibility to participate in the process.

Citizens of every political viewpoint can be proud of this important law. This legislation reflects the judgments of a distinguished bipartisan commission. These measures were carefully considered and overwhelmingly adopted by the House and the Senate. Congress has made a vital contribution to the democratic process.

Now it's my honor to sign into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

KAGAN: And we're watching as President Bush signs this act. It is legislation, as he was talking about, to revamp the nation's voting system, protect against the kind of errors that threw the election into dispute two years ago when he was elected president. It will go into effect in 2004. It does not affect next week's elections.

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