Statement of Rep. Jerrold Nadler on Electoral Reform at Progressive Caucus State of the Union

Feb 26, 2001 Issues: Civil Liberties

Throughout the history of this nation, our people have risen above crises that have not only split the nation, but nearly torn it apart at the seams.

We have done so because this nation has taken lessons away from these crises, and built a stronger nation because of them.  Our very Constitution was written because the original Articles of Confederation almost doomed our very infant democracy to death just a short time after it was founded.  From that point on – from the Civil War to the Great Depression, from Tammany Hall to Watergate, this nation has remained strong precisely because when confronted with crises, we have undertaken major reforms.

In the future, history books will certainly feature a chapter on the 2000 Presidential Election.  Undoubtedly, they will recall the drama of election night and the spectacle of the post-election process.  But they will also record just why it came to that point.

We stood by while millions of Americans cast their votes on outdated, unreliable, and poorly designed voting machines.  Since this antiquated machinery had never been previously put to the test in a close national election, there had been no push to modernize them.  In a close election, where every vote really mattered, our machines failed us.  We were left to watch election officials attempt to discern votes by hand.  This should be unacceptable.

But hopefully, history will also record that after this nightmare, Congress heeded the lessons of Florida and embarked on comprehensive election reform.  I believe a bill which I have introduced along with Senators Schumer and Brownback, the “Federal Election Modernization Act” will do just that.  With passage of this bill, we would assemble the best minds to study this problem and make recommendations for improving and modernizing our election procedures.  We would also make the investment necessary to help states and localities purchase new equipment.  Most important, the commission would be charged with ensuring that voting is accessible to everyone, from the poor, to minorities, to the disabled.  Voting is our most precious right and we must ensure that it can be exercised by every citizen.

This process will take coordination and consultation with the states.  This bill would not set up a Federal mandate, rather, it would set up a partnership between the Federal government and states that would give them what they need to institute far-reaching reforms.

Above all, this cannot be just a Progressive Caucus issue, nor can it be a Democratic issue or Republican issue.  It must be a bipartisan issue.  The people must have faith that the result of our efforts will be a fair and equal system for everyone.  That’s why it is so important that we have bipartisan sponsors on the Federal Election Modernization Act.  Although we might have been working against each other during the election, it is time to come together to fix our broken system.

I would hope that President Bush, knowing the flaws in the electoral system first-hand would join this call to begin writing the next chapter in the history books, in which our nation’s leaders take action to again let this nation emerge from a crisis even stronger.   I hope that this evening, he takes a moment to talk about bills such as this, which would let this nation enter the era of modern elections leave the era of the “dimpled chad” behind.