Washington President Bush signed legislation Tuesday that Congress approved overwhelmingly to correct the sort of voter registration mix-ups and confusing ballots that threw his own election into bitter dispute two years ago.
The "Help America Vote Act of 2002" will give states $3.9 billion to replace in time for the 2004 presidential election that will likely include Bush's bid for a second term outdated punch-card and lever voting machines, and to improve voter education and poll-worker training.
The bill was signed too late for the vote next Tuesday that will determine control of Congress and 36 governorships.
The new law also requires statewide voter databases that are designed to make it easier to register and to detect fraud.
It was the 2000 Florida recount battle with its confusing "butterfly ballots," half-perforated punch ballots and allegations of voter intimidation that gave rise to the legislation. Bush's electoral victory over Democrat Al Gore was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.
The president made no mention Tuesday of that Florida debacle.
By 2004, all new registering voters will be required to provide drivers' license numbers, Social Security numbers, or specially assigned voter ID numbers at the polls. That same year, states will have to give provisional ballots to voters whose names do not appear on voter rolls. Those provisional ballots would be counted once valid registration is verified.
For 2006 balloting, states will be required to maintain voter registration lists linked to driver's license databases. States also will be required to have voting machines that let voters confirm the way they marked their ballot and, if necessary, change their votes before they are finally cast.
"The bill goes a long way toward addressing a lot of the problems, but the extent to which the bill works relies on what the states do because they are given a lot of discretion," said Tova Andrea Wang, a staffer to the National Commission on Federal Election Reform.
"A new polling machine is fine and great as long as people know how to use it, and there's no specificity in the legislation on poll-worker training and voter education."
Wang and other election experts also worry that discriminatory enforcement of the voter-ID requirements could especially disenfranchise minorities, the poor, immigrants and students.