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Oregon wants voters voices

Promise King/On Urban Issues

For a moment, forget about the mad dash to Baghdad and all the news about bombs and raids. Disconnect yourself from the blurred images of war casualties and high-tech munitions.

Instead, take a moment to make yourself available for civic duty on the front lines at home. There is a battle to be waged for making the vehicle of our democracy Ñ the voting process Ñ roll a little faster while keeping everyone on board.

Between now and next month, Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury is seeking your comments on Oregon's draft plan for the Help America Vote Act.

'Our primary focus as we develop and implement our state election plan will be on making it easier, more understandable and more accessible for Oregonians to vote,' Bradbury says.

You can be part of the army that makes this a reality. From April 15 to April 24, public hearings will be held in counties throughout the state. You also can submit comments at the Web site at www.oregonvotes.org or mail them to the Secretary of State's Office, 136 State Capitol, Salem, OR 97310.

After the 'dangling chad' debacle that marked the 2000 presidential election in Florida, Congress passed HAVA late last year to address election fallout and make sweeping reforms to the nation's voting procedures. It comes with new voting systems standards.

HAVA requires state and local governments to create and maintain a single, uniform, centralized voter registration system; to provide information to voters on how to correct their ballots and request replacement ballots; and to allow voters to cast provisional ballots and determine the status of these ballots. (Provisional ballots are those that still need verification.)

The act calls for improved access, privacy and independence for voters with disabilities and also charges election officials with creating a formal mechanism for handling complaints. It mandates replacement of the punch-card systems, training of state and county elections officials, and new identification for first-time voters who registered by mail.

To comply with these new regulations, Oregon is proposing to replace punchcard voting with a touch-screen system known as direct recording electronics for people with disabilities in all of its 36 counties.

In addition, the state will create a centralized voter registration system and provide new voters with an orientation on how to mark and correct their ballots and how to request replacement ballots. It also proposes a toll-free help line.

The plan does not change Oregon's vote-by-mail systems or the basic structure of the elections process. Officials are banking on the plan to improve the integrity of the voting process, especially among minorities and people with disabilities.

Says Paddy McGuire, deputy secretary of state: 'The true spirit of the Oregon Help America Vote Act is to ensure that when the proposed changes work, they work for everybody, especially racial and language minorities, the physically challenged, seniors and all those who truly seek genuine access to a ballot.'

This is the challenge. Let the battle begin.