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N.H. seen as barometer for efforts to improve voting systems

WASHINGTON -- The New Hampshire primary on Tuesday will be the "first real test" of a new federal act providing billions of dollars to help states ensure that future elections will be accurate, honest, and accessible, Representative Steny Hoyer, one of the sponsors of the act, said yesterday.

Other primaries that follow in February also will showcase provisions in the $3.9 billion law that help or require states to replace outdated voting equipment, establish statewide voter registration databases, require better voter identification, and provide provisional ballots so qualified voters won't be turned away from polling places.

Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, and Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, the two chief sponsors of the "Help America Vote Act" signed into law in October 2002, said that this was the first time that federal dollars were being used to improve the election system.

They spoke a day after Congress finished work on a giant 2004 spending bill that included $1.5 billion for the election reform program, $1 billion more than was originally budgeted. Congress also allotted $1.5 billion in the first year of the act last year.

Ney, chairman of the House Administration Committee, and Hoyer successfully pressed the leadership to increase the budget, arguing that it was needed to try to ensure that the 2004 election avoids the controversies that marred the 2000 presidential election.

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