With less than a month until Local, state and national elections, the Democrats are pushing to hold on to their close majority in the Senate while Republicans hope to gain control over the House and Senate to compliment their Republican White House. As the count down continues both sides say the future of capital hill for the next two years is too close to call.

Paul Wong
AP PHOTO
U.S. Rep. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), center, U.S. Senate candidate, talks with Mendel Stewart, left, after a dedication ceremony for the Ellison McKissick textile building yesterday at Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton, S.C. Looking on is

WASHINGTON (AP) – Voters heading to the polls in 2004 will see new voting machines, provisional ballots and ID requirements under a bill Congress has sent to the White House.

The Senate passed the bill 92-2 Wednesday, nearly a week after the House approved it in a 357-48 vote. President Bush issued a statement saying the legislation contained “important election reforms” and promised to sign it.

The measure would authorize spending about $3.8 billion over three years, although Congress must separately approve of spending that money. All sides say they are committed to that.

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said the bill will “make the central premise of our democracy – that the people are sovereign – ring even more truly in the years to come.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the committee’s top Republican, called the legislation “landmark.”

The measure is the result of months of negotiation to craft a federal solution to the balloting problems in Florida that plagued the 2000 presidential election.

New York’s two Democratic senators – Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton – were the only senators who voted against the bill. Both cited opposition to the bill’s voter identification requirement, saying it overrides New York’s system of allowing voters to simply attest to their signatures.

With the congressional session winding down, lawmakers took up a flurry of measures, including legislation the Senate approved Wednesday that increases defense spending.

The election overhaul provides money for states to replace punch-card and lever voting systems with upgraded machines. It requires provisional voting, which allows people who claim eligibility to vote even when their names do not appear on election rolls. Those ballots would be set aside; election officials would determine later whether they were valid.

The bill also establishes statewide registration lists that would use a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number to identify each voter. Voters with neither number would be assigned an identifying number by the state.

States would have to ensure that at least one voting machine at each polling place is accessible to the disabled.

The bill includes identification requirements opposed by civil rights groups and many Democrats. Those provisions would require voters who registered by mail to show identification the first time they vote. Photo IDs, utility bills or other documents would be allowed as proof.

Activists have complained that the identification provisions are unfair to the poor and minorities who may lack acceptable documentation.

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said the bill will “not only make it easier to discriminate but, for some Americans, also make it harder to vote.”

In other work:

– The Senate passed a bill, 93-1, that increases defense spending 12 percent – to $355 billion for fiscal 2003, which began Oct. 1. The House had already passed the bill, and it now goes to Bush for his signature. The bill is H.R. 5010.

-The House passed a measure, 296-94, that would authorize Immigration and Naturalization Service border inspectors to detain drivers crossing the border while drunk or under the influence of drugs. The measure also would let INS officials perform chemical or drug tests when they have reasonable grounds to believe a driver is impaired, and to impound the vehicles of those who refuse to take the tests. The bill is H.R. 2155.

-The House passed by voice vote and sent to the White House a bill directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish four health care centers around the country to specialize in emergency preparedness for terror attacks. The centers would offer training for medical responders to attacks; develop systems for detecting and diagnosing biological, radiological and chemical agents; and treat victims of terrorism. The bill is H.R. 3253.

– House Republicans temporarily shelved an investor tax relief measure that would have raised the tax deduction for investment losses and given people breaks to rebuild retirement plans devastated by the market downturn. Conservatives had objected to provisions intended to stop U.S. companies from relocating to overseas tax havens. They contended those items amounted to a tax increase.

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