Washington The confused and protracted conclusion of the presidential election is stimulating broad debate in Congress about major reforms to the election laws, with lawmakers dusting off proposals to abolish the Electoral College and producing a range of new plans to overhaul the way in which Americans vote for their president.
Virtually every major election dispute over the years has led to calls for change, but the shock effect of the recount controversy in Florida and the unprecedented delay in determining whether Al Gore or George W. Bush will be the next president is prompting more proposals than usual and a growing sense that Congress may actually do something.
"Based on what we're going through now, Congress has an absolute obligation to give a long and hard look at the whole electoral process," said Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa.
Proposals range from constitutional amendments to scrap the Electoral College in favor of the popular election of the president an idea that was first offered in Congress in 1797 to a wide array of more modest changes that include weekend voting, casting ballots over the Internet and increased uniformity in standards for recounting ballots.
Significantly, despite the intense partisanship of the presidential fight, many of the proposals are being offered jointly by Republicans and Democrats. Most are being offered to invite discussion within a top-to-bottom review of voting procedures, either by a bipartisan panel or by the Federal Election Commission.
Two committee chairmen said Thursday that they will hold hearings. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who heads the Senate Rules Committee, announced that the panel will hear testimony on such matters as poll closing times, ballot formats, voting equipment, absentee voting and the "timeliness and accuracy of vote counting."
The most fundamental change under discussion and the one facing the most obstacles is the elimination or alteration of the Electoral College.
The idea of abolishing or changing the Electoral College has been around virtually since it was created. The Congressional Research Service has counted 1,028 separate proposals for changing the system dating back to the 1st Congress, according to an aide to Leach, accounting for almost one in 10 of all constitutional amendments ever filed in Congress.
Twice since World War II in 1950 and 1969 have plans for major revisions to the Electoral College won approval in one chamber of Congress but died in the other. But the idea picked up some prominent backers after Election Day, which ended with Gore leading the popular vote tally but facing the prospect of losing the Electoral College to Bush.