From Sen. Trent Lott Filed 2/10/06 GCN
Legislation authorizing the distribution of $50 million in grants to help Gulf states rebuild their election infrastructure, damaged or destroyed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, passed the U.S. Senate Thursday night, U.S. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi said.
Lott, chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, with jurisdiction over election issues, introduced S. 2166, the Hurricane Election Relief Act of 2005, last December, along with Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the Ranking Democrat on the Committee.
The bill directs the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to distribute the grants to restore and replace supplies, materials, records, equipment, and technology used in administering federal elections that were damaged, destroyed, or dislocated as a result of the hurricanes. The Act also permits funds to be used to ensure the full electoral participation of displaced individuals, and Senator Lott said that state and local election officials could use the grant monies to offset the costs of printing and processing voter registration and absentee ballot materials for those displaced voters.
“It’s now been over five months since hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc throughout the Gulf region,” Senator Lott said. “We continue to work to rebuild lives and neighborhoods, and we must also ensure that the right to vote does not become a secondary casualty. Gulf Coast residents should not face an impediment to their ability to fully participate in our nation’s democracy.”
“Voting equipment was destroyed; voter records were lost; and polling places were leveled,” he said. “If this infrastructure is not restored in a timely manner, the voting rights of thousands of citizens in the region will be substantially impaired.”
Senator Lott said that many displaced individuals will not be able to return to their homes anytime soon, leading to an increased demand for absentee ballots and logistical challenges for cash-strapped localities. “To ensure that Gulf Coast residents remain fully enfranchised, it’s essential that impacted states receive sufficient resources to restore their election infrastructure to pre-hurricane levels,” Senator Lott said. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for action.