Friday, January 25, 2008

New version of Holt Bill needs your input

From David Delk and Nancy Price, coordinators of AfD's Honest and Clean Elections campaign:

On January 17th, Rep. Holt (D-NJ) introduced the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008 (H.R. 5036). This bill comes too late for Super Tuesday, but can make a difference in the November elections.

This alert is long in order to give background and cover the issues for you thoroughly. Thank you for taking the time to read it. Don't forget to forward this message to your friends, and ask them to call too!

H.R. 5036 addresses only questions surrounding the use of touch-screen voting machines. Many election processes are not addressed; for instance, sufficient number of machines and trained election personnel at each polling place, and practices that discriminate against registered voters.

We urge you to call Congress, speak with the legislative aide who handles election bills, and voice your support for HR5036, but with reservation.

Make clear that further reforms are necessary to make sure that all future elections are fair and honest. The full text of the bill is here.

New Hampshire's Democratic primary election ended with questions about discrepancies between the results of hand-counted ballots and those counted by optical-scanning machines, leading to the call for an official recount because of unreliable machines. New Hampshire has no mandatory audits. Thus, close to 80% of the state’s ballots were effectively counted in secret by closed-source optical scanners whose source code is not open to public inspection.
For New Hampshire recount results go to

When ballots are counted in secret, the state fails in its obligation to conduct open, transparent elections. The public cannot be confident of secret elections and is left with the burden of proving that the elections were fair and honest by bringing suit, as has happened in Florida, Ohio, Colorado and elsewhere.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008 (H.R. 5036) on January 17 - a measure to address some of the problems with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. A vote on the bill has not yet been scheduled. Now is the time to call your Congress members and voice your approval of this measure, but also that more must be done.

This bill does not replace Rep. Holt's earlier Voter Confidence Act of 2005 or later version of 2007 (H.R. 811) that could still be passed by Congress.

In 2002, Congress rushed through the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) following the tumultuous Florida presidential election by providing funds to replace the obsolete punch-card and lever voting equipment with new electronic vote recording (Touch Screen Voting or DREs) and vote tally equipment (optical scanners).

This new voting equipment proved defective, being in many instances unable to accurately record and count the vote and being subject to insecurities like hacking. Another major problem was a lack of a permanent paper record showing each individual vote. The 2004 election, especially in Ohio, but also elsewhere, made clear the extent of this problem.

In February 2005, Rep. Holt introduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (H.R. 811) to mandate, among other reforms, a voter-verified paper record for all voting systems and an independent audit mechanism.

The Alliance for Democracy and other election groups, said: “Rep. Holt, this bill does not solve the problem.” A voter-verified paper record does not guarantee an accurate vote count because we still do not know how the votes were counted. We cannot inspect the code used in the actual individual counting and cumulative tallying of votes.

The “Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008”
is necessary ...

This bill specifies that state or other voting entities (county election offices) can move from DRE machines to either paper ballots or paper trail systems, both with mandatory audits of 3% of precincts. Audits must be public and the selection of precincts to be audited must be in a public venue. Money is allocated for the switch from DREs to paper ballot/paper trail and for conducting audits.

Also, precincts using DRE machines must also have available paper ballots for voter marking in case of DRE machine failure. It does not require that voters ALWAYS have the option of using a voter-marked paper ballot. It does say that in case of DRE machine failure and, therefore, the use of paper ballots, that these ballots will be treated as if marked by DREs and will not be considered as provisional only.

…but not sufficient

This bill is a better beginning point for reform than past efforts but is not sufficient to produce citizen confidence that our elections are open and honest. It is through the efforts of many voting integrity groups including the Alliance for Democracy, the Election Defense Alliance, and Progressive Democrats of America that we now have a bill requiring either a paper ballot or a paper trail along with mandatory random audits.

However, the Alliance for Democracy continues to have concerns. American elections should be conducted without the use of DRE machines, whether those DRE machines have a paper trail or not. Yet this act allows their continued use.

The Alliance for Democracy reiterates our earlier position of concern and calls for all members to contact their Congressperson and/or Senator with our position:

1. All votes must be made by the voter on a paper ballot (disabled persons could still use an alternate method if needed). Rep. Holt's new bill only requires a paper trail. Paper trails are basically DREs connected to a printer which produces a paper 'receipt’. The voter is then expected to verify the vote. Most voters will assume the ‘receipt’ is correct and not verify its correctness.

2. The federal government must provide adequate funds to the states to ease the financial burden of switching from the defective DREs to voter-marked paper ballots.

3. Random mandatory hand-counted audits must be required. With voter-marked paper ballots, the vote tallies are via computerized optical scanners which can be subject to the same manipulation as the DREs. These audits are the only way to assure the accuracy of the vote.

4. The number of precincts audited should range between 3% and 10% dependent on the difference between the votes received by the 1st and 2nd place winners. The smaller the difference, the more precincts which should be audited.

5. All hand-counted audits must be open, transparent and immediate, within one or two days of the election.

6. There must be a clear ballot chain of custody. For instance, in the 2004 elections, reports of ballots and other vote counts going home with precinct workers were made and so the vote's integrity was lost.

7. The federal government must provide adequate funds to the states to ease the financial burden of conducting the random mandatory hand-counted audits.

8. A paper ballot must always be available. If only a paper trail is required, all voting precincts must be required to offer a paper ballot to all voters as an equal alternative to a DRE machine. All voters must be advised of this alternative and a notice prominently displayed at the polling place. Rep. Holt's bill only requires that paper ballots be made available in the event of an emergency and what would constitute an emergency is not defined.

9. No election subject to audits shall be certified until after the completion of the audit process.

Read more on the issue:
Rep. Rush Holt to Push for Paper Ballots and Vote Count Audits for 2008, by Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet, Posted December 27, 2007

Please take a moment to call or write your members of Congress and demand that this bill can be amended to better protect the integrity of your vote.

You can reach the Capitol switchboard toll free at 1-800-828-0498, or (202) 224-3121.

Links to Representatives’s official sites, including contact info, can be found here. Contact information for Senators can be found here.

Thanks--please let us know what you hear from your members of Congress, and please forward this message to anyone you know who would be interested!

No comments: