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US electoral system problems resurface -

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US electoral system problems resurface

Reporter: Jill Colgan

KERRY O'BRIEN: In little more than a week, more than a 100 million Americans will go to the polls
to choose their president, even though a similar number may choose not to vote at all.

Electoral authorities have had four years to fix the problems of the 2000 election count, which saw
the presidency hang in the balance for an agonising 36 days and left many Americans feeling
disenfranchised.

Yet, as the ABC's Washington correspondent Jill Colgan reports, American voters are again facing a
perplexing system that's already causing problems even before the first vote is counted.

JILL COLGAN: Autumn in Pennsylvania has arrived with the knowledge the presidential election is
just days away.

In this, one of three crucial swing states, every vote could make a difference in deciding the
presidency.

In historic County York, home to the nation's first capital, more than 200,000 voters will choose
whether or not to cast a ballot.

Voting is voluntary.

Putting democracy into practice is no simple matter here in the United States.

Instead of one single uniform voting system across the country, there are many.

Here in the state of Pennsylvania, people are expected to vote one of seven different ways, and it
varies county by county.

JOHN SCOTT, DIRECTOR OF VOTER REGISTRATION, COUNTY OF YORK: We're looking at a lever voting
machine, it's the kind that's been used in York County for over 50 years to record our votes here
both in federal, state and local elections.

JILL COLGAN: Every county in each of the 50 states is allowed to choose its own form of voting.

JOHN SCOTT: We don't change things easily unless there's a need to change them.

And this machine has worked very well in York County for 50 years now.

JILL COLGAN: Now, as in 2000, voters are confronted by a patchwork of systems with too little
funding and too few trained poll workers.

JOHN SCOTT: The vote is cast by leaving the levers down and remembering that the curtain is closed
so that anybody outside can't see it and when you turn the red lever back over to the left, those
levers moved up and then the curtain would have opened after the levers are up and your vote cast.

DOUG CHAPIN, DIRECTOR, electionline.org: The only thing that everyone agrees upon is that no-one
agrees on what the proper solution is.

JILL COLGAN: Americans squirm at the memory of the 2000 election and those pesky hanging chads, the
paper ballots not clearly punched through.

Outrage at the election chaos turned into a resolve to transform the electoral system.

DOUG CHAPIN: The Federal Government after the 2000 election embarked on a two-year debate on
election reform and at the end of that debate Congress enacted and the President signed the Help
America Vote Act of 2002.

That act represents a bargain between the Federal Government and state and local election
officials.

The Federal Government, for its part, committed to deliver roughly $4 billion over three years to
state and local election officials.

DOUG CHAPIN: What Americans will see around the country when they return to the polls will vary
from place to place.

JILL COLGAN: Doug Chapin is director of electionline.org, a non-partisan election reform analysis
group.

In his view, the Federal Government hasn't fulfilled its end of the bargain.

Only about half the money allocated has reached the states.

DOUG CHAPIN: I think election reform got lost in the shuffle.

I think once Congress enacted the Bill, it considered itself done with the issue for the time being
and knew that it had been controversial and I think there was to a certain extent a lack of follow
through.

I haven't seen any evidence that that was partisan in motivation or that there was any sort of ill
intent.

I just think the issue got lost in the crush of larger events like September 11, the war in Iraq
and others.

JILL COLGAN: The battle between President George W Bush and challenger Senator John Kerry is
looking just as tight as the 2000 race.

Both campaigns have mobilised their base, sending a massive influx of new voters to registration
offices like that in York.

JOHN SCOTT: We've processed a little over 20,000 new voter registration applications, not including
duplicates and changes, just new ones and since the end of August we've turned out almost 10,000
absentee ballot applications.

In a normal election we'd be turning out anywhere from 500 to 1,000 absentees, usually closer to
500.

JILL COLGAN: In the nearby county of Lehigh they've been swamped by absentee ballots.

Elsewhere, in Columbus, Ohio, officials are working around the clock, six days a week, processing
new voters.

Some may not be registered in time to be allowed to vote.

BILL FAITH, VOTER RIGHT ACTIVIST: We are on the brink of this historic opportunity to have so many
people more engaged in our democratic process this year than we've ever seen.

And yet we're going to show them that the first experience they get at trying to vote is they're
turned away.

JILL COLGAN: Five states, including Florida, are allowing early voting in a bid to ease the load on
November 2, but when voters in Broward County turned out to use Florida's new electronic voting
machines they found computer glitches.

Well before the November 2 election, allegations are flying of voter fraud.

In Nevada, a voter registration worker says she was told to throw away the forms filled out by
Democratic voters.

PATTIE PARKER, VOTER REGISTRATION WORKER: Just do whatever you want with it, dispose of it or bring
it back here and we'll dispose of it.

JILL COLGAN: In Colorado, the FBI is investigating the discovery of piles of registration forms
with bogus names.

One young voter is likely to face prosecution for trying to sell his vote on eBay - the starting
price, $25.

Both parties deny any wrong doing, but as in the past, Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to
stuff the ballot boxes, while Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to stop their voters getting
to the polls.

Both campaigns plan to have teams of lawyers and observers on hand to stop any electoral
shenanigans.

DOUG CHAPIN: We could have hundreds of thousands of observers, poll watchers, lawyers, law
students, people across the spectrum who will be watching the process.

Many of those people will be willing to challenge the process if a problem occurs.

For that reason I think the vast number of people who are helping to prevent another Florida, or
are hoping to prevent another Florida, may actually help to make it occur.

JILL COLGAN: There have been changes to the voting system that will cause fewer voters to be turned
away at the polls this time.

But a combination of new technology with a big voter turnout and confusion at the ballot box means
it's impossible to rule out another Florida.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Jill Colgan reporting from Washington.