WASHINGTON — Speaking for state lawmakers from around the nation, Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens says states endorse just one of the many congressional bills that seek to reform election systems.

"It's the only one that doesn't put a lot of unfair mandates on the states," Stephens said of the proposed Help America Vote Act by Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Since the razor-thin presidential election last year — and recount fiascoes in Florida — Congress and the states have looked at numerous reform possibilities.

Stephens co-chaired the National Conference of State Legislatures Election Reform Task Force, and told a press conference last week that the Ney-Hoyer bill is the only one in Congress that closely follows its recommendations.

"We believe that the Ney-Hoyer legislation best embodies the principles which guided our policy decisions, and we look forward to working with members of Congress to enact, fund and implement the Help America Vote Act," said Stephens, R-Farr West.

The other task force co-chairman, North Carolina State Rep. Dan Blue, said the bill "recognizes that one size does not fit all and that in our federalist system we do not hold one federal election but 50 state elections for federal office."

Stephens said too many bills in Congress try to mandate that specific types of voting machines or systems be used — but the Ney-Hoyer bill does not.

Stephens said other provisions he likes in the bill include requiring that a state develop one uniform database of voters. "That prevents people from trying to vote in different counties," he told the Deseret News.

Also, it would require allowing "provisional voting."

"We haven't had that in Utah," Stephens said. "It means that if there is some question about whether someone can vote, they can cast their ballot provisionally — and if problems are sorted out, that vote will be counted." A provisional ballot bill will be considered in the Utah Legislature next month.

It also provides money for counties that want to upgrade from punch-card systems — but does not mandate that changes occur.

It also calls for definition before an election of what constitutes a valid vote. "In Florida we saw a big debate over whether hanging chads or pregnant chads constituted a vote. This would solve all that before the election," Stephens said.


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