Rush Holt: Confidence In Voting Act of 2008

Will the third Act be the charm? Rush Holt to introduce the “Confidence In Voting Act of 2008”.

As drafted, CTVotersCount.org fully supports the bill and will work for its passage. (Read on for our reasons for supporting this bill and what it means for Connecticut)

Thursday Alternet reported Rep. Rush Holt to Push for Paper Ballots and Vote Count Audits for 2008 <read>. In early Fruday afternoon Brad Friedman followed up with Holt Takes Another Stab At Election Reform <read> and a <.pdf draft> of the proposed bill

The First Act

At least two years ago Representative Rush Holt introduced a bill to require paper ballots and audits of Federal elections. In the spring of 2006 I joined a group of citizens from across the country for two lobby days sponsored by Verified Voting, Common Cause, and VoteTrust USA to meet with representatives to urge co-sponsorship of the original “Holt bill”. I joined the New England delegation lobbying the five of the six representatives from New England (four from CT and two from MA) who had not signed on as one of the 169 co-sponsors. Some signed on immediately, some in a few weeks, and in one district only after the 2006 election. The eventual result was co-sponsorship by more than 220 representatives and by each of the five representatives from Connecticut.

Two things stood out for me. First, when someone said that one representative’s staff member had laughed and said it was hopeless because some bills have three hundred- cosponsors but without majority Republican support were blocked from consideration. Second, I was impressed with Rush Holt – a physicist representing Princeton, NJ. – it was not surprising that a scientist would understand the vulnerability represented by electronic voting, and understand the need for both paper ballots and audits to protect democracy. Act one ended with the bill not being considered by committee.

The Second Act

In 2007, with a Democratic Congress and over 220 co-sponsors, Rush Holt introduced a revised bill ,HR 811, watered down to meet objections from the software industry and cries from many Secretaries of the State, that it was too much to change too fast before the 2008 elections. It would still mandate paper ballots and audits in time for the 2008 election. Voting advocates were split with strong views on both sides: All wanted the bill to do more. Some saw the bill as a positive step forward. Others objected that it should at least ban DREs aka touch screen voting machines (it funded paper ballot retrofits for states with existing DREs). Others objected to some of the Election Assistance Commission and software confidentiality provisions of the law as a step backward. A competing bill was introduced in the Senate which was weaker and would delay improvement until at least 2010.

Our reading of the bill was that would be a positive, if small step forward, but that it was doomed in the swamp of disagreement among advocates, cries of some voting officials, the competing Senate bill – all providing plenty of excuses for a veto in the unlikely event it was passed by both houses.

The bill did make it to committee and close to consideration on the floor of the House. Every week of delay added fuel to the “too late” argument. Act two ended with even less time for positive change in time for the 2008 election.

Act Three – Confidence In Voting Act of 2008

The revised bill expected to be introduced next week seems to eliminate all the objections. It is still less than any advocate would like, but it would be a welcome step forward:

  • It is not mandatory – satisfying the complaints from some voting officials
  • It funds the purchase of optical scan voting machines to replace DREs, not paper receipts retrofitted to DREs
  • Additional provisions which concerned some advocates have been eliminated.

Why We Support This Bill, as drafted

This is clearly a case of what is good for the Country is good for Connecticut and vise versa. The Confidence in Voting Act of 2008 will:

  • Encourage all states to adopt audits and optical scan paper ballots that will increase the integrity of all elections. This will help assure that the intentions of Connecticut voters are not thwarted by inadequate procedures and equipment in other states which could compromise the integrity of results nationwide.
  • Pay the cost of audits in Connecticut. Connecticut has just completed its first comprehensive post-election audit of optical scan voting. One of the strongest objections by registrars and towns was that audits are unfunded mandates. The 2007 audits in Connecticut were reimbursed by HAVA funding. This bill will assure that audits will continue to be funded in part by Federal funds.
  • Insure that Connecticut Audits the 2008 Presidential and Congressional Races. Connecticut Public Act 07-194 falls short of this bill’s standard, because Federal races may not be audited based on random race selection. Among other improvements this bill will assure that all Federal offices in Connecticut are included in the audits.
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