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Senate adds $1b to overhaul elections

WASHINGTON -- Intent on avoiding a repeat of the 2000 presidential election debacle, the Senate has added $1 billion to the president's request for funds to carry out improvements in the national voting system.

"In a time when we are committing billions of dollars in federal resources to build democracies around the world, we simply cannot afford to shortchange our own," said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, before the Senate voted, 63 to 31, Thursday to waive budget caps and increase funds for an election overhaul in fiscal year 2004 from $500 million to $1.5 billion.

Joining Dodd was Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's third-ranked Republican, who said he found himself "in an extremely awkward position" in contesting the budget figure proposed by the president and agreed to by the Senate Appropriations Committee. "This, however, is that very rare instance which I believe warrants providing funding above that provided in the budget."

In all, 19 Republicans supported the increased funding, added to a $90 billion spending bill for Transportation and Treasury Department programs in the budget year that began Oct. 1.

Dodd and McConnell were the lead Senate sponsors of the Help America Vote Act that President Bush signed into law last October. The measure approved the spending of $3.86 billion through 2005 to help states modernize voting technology, ensure that no eligible voter is turned away at the polls, and reduce fraud.

But the amount actually approved for spending in the 2003 budget and requested for 2004 is $1 billion less than prescribed under the act, making it difficult, supporters of the Dodd amendment said, for states to prepare for the 2004 election. The provision was opposed by Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, who said it busts the budget and was unnecessary because there is still unused money in the pipeline from last year's budget.In the House, the second-ranked Democrat, Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, and Robert W. Ney, Republican of Ohio and chairman of the House Administration Committee, are pressing the GOP leadership to find the $1.86 billion to fulfill the entire allotment of $3.86 billion allowed under the law.

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