H.R. 811, the e-voting bill originally introduced by Rep. Rush Holt, is reportedly up for a vote of the full House of Representatives tomorrow.
H.R. 811 gets the big issues right, requiring a voter-verified paper ballot with post-election audits to verify that the electronic records are consistent with the paper ballots.
The bill is cautious where caution is warranted. For example, it gives states and counties the flexibility to choose optical-scan or touch-screen systems (or others), as long as there is a suitable voter-verified paper record. Though some e-voting activists want to ban touch-screens altogether, I think that would be a mistake. Touch screens, if done correctly — which no vendor has managed yet, I’ll admit — do offer some advantages.
As you can tell from Ed Felton’s comments, the voting reform community is split on HR811. Many feel that it does not go far enough. A good representative of the ‘it doesn’t go far enough camp’ can be see at The Brad blog.
At The BRAD BLOG, we’ve been discussing the pros and cons of Rep. Rush Holt’s (D-NJ) new Election Reform bill HR 811.
It has a lot of co-sponsors and traction, and there is much good in it. Some of its features include requirements for publicly-disclosed software, greatly increased restrictions on the use of the Internet and other networking, a ban on insane voting machine “sleepovers” at pollworkers’ houses prior to elections, mandatory random audits of results, and a requirement for a “durable and archival paper ballot for every vote cast. Trouble is, Holt’s bill never requires that the “durable and archival paper ballot” actually be tabulated. And that was no mistake.
With each successive draft of the new bill, I suggested language that would require those “paper ballots” actually be tabulated, and each time, that language was not added.
Why? Because if such a requirement existed, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE/touch-screen) devices would effectively be banned forever from American elections in the bargain.
Even the new Republican Governor of Florida now wants to replace his state’s DRE machines with optical-scan systems. And, every computer scientist and computer expert I’ve ever spoken with agrees that op-scans are far safer for use in elections than DRE’s.
Democrats who support the bill, along with their closely-allied public advocacy groups — such as Common Cause, PFAW, MoveOn, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, VoteTrustUSA, and the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition — are currently unable or unwilling to show the necessary courage to insist upon the banning of disenfranchising, failed DRE/touch-screen voting system technology from all American elections.
EFF supports HR 811 and hopes that you will tell your Representative to support it as well. As we have done over the years through the bill’s various incarnations, EFF has supported HR 811 based on what the bill would actually do, not what it lacks. At the end of the day, a post-HR 811 electoral system would indisputably (despite arguments to the contrary) be better than the one that exists today. EFF has discussed this in detail before: from where we sit, banning the use of paperless direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines if they are not retrofitted with voter-verified paper ballots (VVPATs) and mandating for the first time across-the-board audits of federal elections would unquestionably be good things which continue to deserve support, regardless of whether or not we’d like to see additional improvements.
So where do I stand? I’m uncommitted on this one. I’d like to see reform but I fear that the bill is both too complicated and too limited. I have never taken the time to read the full bill (which I have heard is 50 pages) so I have relied on analysis by others. Since the analysis by those I trust is split, I am not fully on board with HR811. Of course, one must ask, which HR811? The bill has been continually amended and changed. There are some versions out there that are more palatable then others.
For example, there is the Davis ammendment. From Congresswoman Susan A. Davis’s floor statement:
In an attempt spark debate on this issue, I proposed an amendment to H.R. 811 allowing every polling place to have one DRE with a paper trail for those who want or need to use it—sort of a paper or plastic option. And of course, early voting could be done electronically because it makes the most sense when voters from any of thousands of precincts show up to vote in the same place and stocking all the different paper ballots can be a nightmare. What’s more, problems of the past such as long lines from broken machines or elections with no record like we saw in Florida’s 13th Congressional District could not happen. There would be fewer problems that lead to long lines and disenfranchisement, people with disabilities could vote privately, a true paper record would be available for recounts and costs would shrink.