For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 31, 2001
Remarks by the President on Federal Election Reform
The Rose Garden
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11:00 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, all. Please be seated. After the last election, two former Presidents and a panel of distinguished Americans -- from both political parties, I might add -- gathered to consider ways to improve America's election system. And they have produced an impressive report.
Today, I accept their report and recommend the key principles drawn from the report as guidelines for meaningful reform.
I want to welcome President Jimmy Carter back to the Rose Garden and to the Oval Office. (Applause.) President Gerald Ford could not be with us today, but he is well represented by House Minority Leader Bob Michel. Thank you for being here, Mr. Leader. (Applause.)
I want to thank Phil Zelikow for being the executive director of the commission. I want to thank all the commission members who are here. And I appreciate the Attorney General for being here, as well -- thanks for coming, John.
Our American democracy is really an inspiration to the world. Yet, the work of improving it is never finished. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford -- two men who took part in another close election, I might add, and who went on to have a close friendship -- have come together to produce recommendations for modernizing the electoral system.
I want to thank the University of Virginia's Miller Center and the Century Foundation, as well. Mr. Carter and Mr. Ford recruited a commission of 20 distinguished Americans from both parties and every region of the country. I respect the members so much that I appointed one of them to become the ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker.
The others continued to take testimony. They held hearings in four states, listened to dozens of witnesses and consulted widely with state and local officials. They identified some important concerns. For example, the over-eagerness of the media to report the outcome of the elections. (Laughter.)
Some voting methods have much higher error rates than others. And citizens with disabilities or limited proficiency in English can encounter obstacles to the exercise of their democratic rights.
The commissioners brought a broad diversity of personal experience to bear. Seven commissioners, in addition to President Ford and President Carter, have been elected to office, themselves, and have seen Americans' voting procedures up close and personal. Other members have had experience enforcing our nation's civil rights and voting rights laws. Others are experts in constitutional law and the mechanics of government. This commission's idealism is reinforced by deep practical experience.
The commissioners offer many recommendations to strengthen our electoral system. Those recommendations are grounded in four fundamental principles, which I heartily endorse and recommend to the Congress.
First, our nation must continue to respect the primary role of state, county and local governments in elections. In 2000, more than 100 million Americans cast votes in more than 190,000 polling places under the supervision of 1.4 million poll workers. Our nation is vast and diverse and our elections should not be run out of Washington, D.C.
Second, the federal government can have a limited but responsible role in assisting states and localities to solve their problems with election administration so that our voting technology and practices respect the value of every eligible vote.
Third, we must actively and vigorously enforce the laws that protect the voting rights of ethnic and racial minorities, of citizens who do not speak English fluently, and of the elderly and persons with disabilities.
Let me say, by the way, how pleased I am that the commission occasionally cited the great state of Texas for its good work.
Fourth and, finally, we must act to uphold the voting rights of members of the armed services and of Americans living abroad. We must safeguard absentee ballots against abuse, and we must ensure that those Americans who risked their lives to defend American democracy are never prevented from participating in American democracy.
These are some of the core principles underlying the commission's report and they are principles that should guide us all. I commend the commissioners for their statesmen-like work. They have risen above partisan emotions to put forth practical suggestions for improving democracy, and the United States Congress should listen to them and follow their lead.
It is now my honor to call back to the podium a man who has been here quite often in the past, the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. (Applause.)
END 11:06 A.M. EDT