Ashcroft announces initiative to improve voter access
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing "recent voting irregularities," Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a new federal initiative Wednesday to guarantee equal access to the polls and cut down on potential electoral abuses.
At a news conference, Ashcroft said the Justice Department would beef up monitoring of local and state elections, hire more lawyers to specialize in voting cases and appoint a senior counsel for voting rights who would work with states on the issue.
"This not a suggestion that we need to federalize every election ... but we want to help in a partnership," Ashcroft said.
The attorney general said the presidential ballot fight in Florida this past November underscored the need for reform. He said thousands of citizens contacted the Justice Department following the November elections, complaining of voting irregularities. Many minorities in Florida said they were disenfranchised.
Ashcroft said monitors would be sent to polling places if there are problems or significant complaints.
"We have a remarkable opportunity this year," he said, referring to the national attention polling problems have received. He added the new effort would focus on prevention and prosecution.
Ashcroft spoke as a Senate committee met on Capitol Hill to discuss a bill on election reform.
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