[Update 9/20/07: I have read the report and review it here: summary and points-by-point]
I just got an interesting comment from Daniel Castro, the author of an Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) report on electronic voting. Castro’s comment:
I just wanted to make sure you were aware of the report we just released on electronic voting. We discuss the limitation of paper audit trails, alternative technologies (to paper) that can be used for audit trails, and suggest that we should focus the national discussion not on whether or not we should have paper trails, but rather on how to implement universally verifiable (or end-to-end verifiable) voting systems.
From the report’s teaser:
Back in August, Bob H. commented:
Btw, Slate has a new article on problems with trying to fix the Electoral College.
I’d be interested to get your take on it. Cheers.
Quoting from the Slate article now:
It’s hardly news at this point that, as it works today, the Electoral College undermines American democracy. It does so in three fundamental ways: First, it betrays the principle of majority rule, threatening every four years to deliver the White House to the popular-vote loser. Second, it reduces the general election contest to a matter of what happens in Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states, leaving most Americans (who live in forsaken “red” and “blue” states) on the sidelines. This in turn depresses turnout and helps give us one of the worst rates of voter participation on earth. Third, because of its proven pliability, the Electoral College invites partisan operatives, legislators, secretaries of state and even Supreme Court justices to engage in constant strategic mischief and manipulation at the state level.
This last problem is about to make things much worse, as strategic actors try to exploit spreading discontent with the system by pushing “reform” proposals for purely partisan advantage. Thus, in California, top Republican strategists are now proposing a ballot initiative that would “reform” the system by awarding the state’s electoral votes by congressional district. Its real purpose is to break up the state’s 55 electors, which typically go to the Democrats in a bloc as inevitably as Texas, Georgia, and Oklahoma give their 56 combined electors to the Republicans. Following the proposed division of California’s well-gerrymandered blue and red congressional districts, it is likely that the 2008 GOP nominee under this plan would carry away about 20 electors. In one fell swoop, this would ruin the Democrats’ chances for winning the presidency.
This is very plainly not reform. It is tactical gamesmanship.
In response to the Timothy Ryan op-ed “A Damaging Paper Chase In Voting”, Rick Carback (one of the punchscan developers) wrote about HR811:
…the article makes an excellent point — mandating a specific technology (which has been known to be problematic since the inception of voting) is a bad idea. By contrast, the authors of the bill could have taken the approach of Software Independence, where the outcome of an election can be determined independently of a piece of software. Any software independence approach would rule out paperless DREs, a hidden audit trail printout, and other ill-conceived technology. DREs with unreliable printers for a VVPAT approach could also be excluded, but you would need to add a reliability requirement (not hard to do). Our system, and similar systems like PAV, would more easily fit into such a definition.
From A Damaging Paper Chase In Voting by Timothy J. Ryan for the Washington Post comes this piece opposing HR811. Among other things it points out that HR811 would conflict with voting systems that cannot provide a paper trail (like Prime III, an Auburn University project that I am not familiar with and hence do not endorse in any way) or cannot preserve all paper records (like punchscan) I would be interested in hearing the reaction of people involved with punchscan to this piece.
From the Ballot Access News:
HR 811, the bill in Congress to require vote-counting machines to produce a paper trail, will not be taken up in the House until September 17 at the earliest. Congressman Rush Holt (D-N.J.) had hoped it would pass the House this week, but it has fierce opposition, both from elections officials who don’t want a paper trail, and from activists who want to eventually eliminate all electronic vote-counting machines. Thus the bill has enemies from both directions.
I am nuetral / undecided about HR811. If you have decided one way or another, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has an advocacy page for supporting HR811. You should be able to edit the message to indicate whatever view you have; support/rejection/something more nuanced.
From the the EFF HR811 advocacy page:
Along with requiring machines to produce a voter-verified paper ballot, H.R. 811 mandates random audits and many other critical reforms. For over three years, EFF has been helping Rep. Rush Holt move this legislation forward, and support from individuals like you has been crucial in garnering an astounding 215 cosponsors. Hundreds of activists joined EFF for Washington, D.C. lobby days in 2005 and 2006, and thousands of letters have poured in to Congress.
Now those efforts are paying off, and victory in the House is within reach — take action now and fight for fair, transparent elections.
Quoting the New York Times (care of the Brad blog):
It is unfortunate that the bill does not contain a provision banning the use of touch-screen voting machines. A touch-screen ban would encourage states to use optical scan machines, which rely on paper ballots read by a computer, like a standardized test form. Optical scans are less expensive and less vulnerable to vote theft.
There is still time before the bill becomes law to add a ban on touch-screen voting. If the House fails to do so, the Senate should, and it should fight for it to be in the final bill.
There has been a spirited debate about how quickly to require reforms to be implemented. There have been calls for putting a solution off until 2012. That is too long to wait.
A good summary from Ed Felten’s Freedom to Tinker blog:
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.