Ensuring the integrity of the ballot box must be a high priority in a healthy republic. After two voting debacles in Florida (in 2000 and in this fall's primary), Congress seems set to help all states improve their voting procedures.
Democrats and Republicans say they've reached compromises on issues that have delayed election reform for two years. The compromises make it "easier to vote, and harder to cheat" as Sen. Kit Bond (R) of Missouri, a lead negotiator, puts it.
An essential principle of any federal reform is to let states have as much leeway as possible to correct what's wrong. More elections are local or state than federal.
One compromise still allows states to set their own counting standards, and define what is a legitimate vote. But to support states' own reforms, Congress will provide nearly $4 billion to upgrade out-of-date ballot equipment, recruit and train poll workers, and conduct voter education.
Republicans were able to gain a provision requiring first-time voters who've registered by mail to show authentic identification at the polls before they can vote, as a safeguard against fraud. Efforts will need to be made to check that local officials aren't looking the other way in checking such IDs.
Democrats won a measure on "provisional" voting. This allows people who have proper IDs but who are not listed on the voting rolls to cast a ballot anyway and then later prove they were legally registered. Let's hope voters who simply failed to register and just show up on election day don't create chaos and delay.
Another win for Democrats was a requirement for a "second chance" mechanism. This would allow a voter to review and correct their ballot while voting, and clarify intent, if need be.
These simple reforms can set a basic national standard for a fairer vote count, avoiding more election cliffhangers and national embarrassment.