WASHINGTON - Members of a new federal voting commission meeting Wednesday to review problems with the 2004 election denounced the secretaries of state from Ohio and Florida, two states at the epicenter of complaints, for failing to show up.
"We can have disagreements, but you can't run and you can't hide," said House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio.
Ney, whose committee oversees election issues, said he would continue to push for Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and his Florida counterpart, Glenda Hood, to appear the Election Assistance Commission. Elections chiefs from four other states were to testify later Wednesday.
Ney called the commission hearing to examine the successes and failures of the Help America Vote Act, which was passed after the disputed 2000 election in Florida and has been fraught with delays and a shortage of money.
"The arrogance of these secretaries of state, to not be here today, is an affront to those persons who elected them to office," said Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald of California, the top Democrat on the Administration Committee.
Blackwell, a Republican, was invited to testify but could not break a prior commitment, spokesman Carlo LoParo said. Blackwell was in Washington on Wednesday to chair a meeting of the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan group that evaluates campaign finance issues.
Brian Walsh, spokesman for the commission, said members were told Hood couldn't make the hearing but he did not know the reason.
The four-member commission, in prepared remarks, said provisional voting in the 2004 election allowed more people to cast ballots and that more electronic voting machines were available. But the commission said there still was much work to be done to reform federal elections and that an instantaneous overhaul of the system envisioned by many Americans was unrealistic.
"In our 'fast food' and 'real time' society, it is easy to expect a quick fix to any given problem. Elections are complex and dynamic events that require years of advance planning and careful thought," the commission said.
Already, the commission has distributed $2.2 billion to states, which helped some to install new electronic or optical scan machines before the Nov. 2 election.
The law also resulted in more than 1.5 million Americans being able to cast provisional ballots, which were given to voters who said they were eligible to vote although their names weren't on the rolls. More than 68 percent of the provisional ballots cast on Election Day were counted toward the final vote, the commission said.
Secretaries of state from Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico and Iowa said in prepared remarks that they registered record numbers of voters, expanded voter education programs and poll worker training, made more polling places accessible to the disabled and replaced old voting machines.
"Certainly, our nation's election system is not perfect. This year, we saw too many long lines at polling places and large numbers of provisional ballots cast. But last November's election was successful overall," said Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, a Republican.
The hearing comes as the General Accountability Office, responding to complaints from around the country, investigates last year's vote count, including the malfunctions of voting machines and handling of provisional ballots. Lawsuits over provisional voting were filed in at least five states, most notably Ohio, Michigan and Missouri.
Many of the election complaints have come from Democrats, third-party candidates and voter advocates such as Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume, the outgoing president of the NAACP.
Republicans and bipartisan groups also have acknowledged problems.
© 2005 The Associated Press