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Sticking point of voting-reform bid: photo IDs

A bipartisan panel urged fixes to US elections Monday, but critics object to call for IDs.

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Since the disputed election of 2000, some Americans have lost faith that their votes count.

The federal reforms of 2002 were a start, say voting experts, but more is needed. Problems in the 2004 elections - from long lines at polling stations to inconsistent handling of provisional ballots - have exacerbated the sense that US elections are flawed.

Now, a bipartisan commission headed by former President Carter, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, has recommended additional changes - including a call for all voters to show photo IDs, paper trails for electronic voting machines, and a shift toward nonpartisan administration of elections.

But a backlash over the photo ID recommendation, in particular, threatens to overtake any attention to the 86 other recommendations. Additional election reform was already a low priority on Congress's agenda, the commission itself acknowledges, and now the controversy may have complicated matters.

"The real divide [over election reform] boils down to the voter-fraud side for conservatives and voter-access issues for liberals," says Rob Richie, executive director of the group Fair Vote, which seeks to increase participation in elections.

The report's recommendation that, by 2010, all states require voters to show a government-issued photo ID card to vote goes right to the question of how poverty and race affect the ability to vote.

About 12 percent of the voting-age population does not have a driver's license, a group that skews toward minorities and low-income workers.

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, a member of the commission, dissented on that part of the report, comparing the requirement of an ID to a " modern-day poll tax."


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