JIM ABRAMS

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -The government would help states track absentee ballots and verify to voters that their votes are actually received and counted under legislation that passed the House on Thursday.

The bill, passed by voice vote, directs the Election Assistance Commission to reimburse states for costs related to establishing absentee ballot tracking programs for federal elections. It does not require states to set up such systems.

These tracking systems would allow voters to check, either through the Internet or by calling an automated number, whether an elections office has sent out a ballot, whether the completed ballot has arrived back at the registrar's office, and whether the ballot has been counted.

"Our nation's voters deserve electoral procedures that are transparent and that strengthen their faith in democracy," said Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., sponsor of the legislation with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

The sponsors' home state of California requires that all counties establish absentee ballot tracking systems, and the bill notes that counties in other states such as Washington, Virigina and Kansas have effective systems in place.

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., in House debate on the bill earlier this week, cited a 2006 survey finding that a quarter of domestic civilian absentee ballots were rejected due to untimely receipt and another report concluding that 20 percent of military personnel and others living overseas did not receive their ballots in time to vote in the 2008 election.

The Senate last week attached an amendment to a defense spending bill requiring states to send out ballots to military and overseas voters at least45 days before an election and removing other red tape that prevents votes from being counted.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the absentee ballot tracking legislation would cost $20 million over a five-year period. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The bill is H.R. 2510.

On the Net:

Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov