Civil Rights Coalition Tells Congress that “Democracy Begins at Home,” Urges Full Funding for Election Reform

Media 09.29,03

WASHINGTON— With Congress set to vote for over $21 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, today called on Congress to spend less than $2 billion to fund democracy here at home.

Joining together with a number of individual civil rights organizations as well as a coalition of groups representing state and local officials, LCCR in a letter urged members of Congress to fully fund the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) as part of the upcoming supplemental appropriations bill to pay for reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Bush administration wants Congress to provide $21.4 billion for reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Wade Henderson, Executive Director of LCCR “We are asking that Congress provide, at the same time, a mere fraction – not even 10% — of that amount for the purpose of strengthening our own democracy.”

HAVA was enacted with widespread bipartisan support in order to prevent the sort of chaos that plagued the polls in 2000 from undermining voter confidence in future elections. It calls for the nationwide upgrade of voting equipment, the creation of statewide voter registration databases and provisional ballots, and expanded access for people with disabilities.

The letter emphasizes the need to provide this support for electoral reform, at a time when a far greater amount of money will likely be sent to assist other countries in building their own democracies. “No civil right is more fundamental to America’s democracy than the right to vote,” said Henderson. “As we commit billions of dollars to promote democracies abroad, Congress must ensure the legitimacy of our electoral processes right here at home.”

The letter documents the need for full funding of election reform. “To help pay for these reforms, HAVA authorizes a total of $3.9 billion over three fiscal years, including $2.16 billion for FY03 and $1.045 billion for FY04,” the letter continues. “To date, however, the actual funding of HAVA has been woefully inadequate.” The letter explains that so far, only $1.5 billion in funding has actually been appropriated, and of that amount, $830 million of that amount still has not yet reached the states because the President has not nominated the members of the new Election Assistance Commission, the new agency charged with distributing most of the money. In addition, states are only poised to receive $500 million under pending appropriations for FY04, which would result in a total of $1.86 billion in unallocated funds that the states still urgently need in order to pay for better elections.

Since HAVA was enacted in 2002, LCCR and the other organizations that signed today’s letter have repeatedly urged Congress to fully fund the new law.