Warren Stewart: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Don't Let Congress Use the Carter-Baker Report to Make Vote Verification Meaningless
by Warren Stewart, Director of Legislative Issues and Policy,
The Report of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, published this morning and available for download at http://www.american.edu/ia/cfer/, is a significant tome at over 100 pages, and its 87 recommendations cover a wide range of issues of concern to election activists. The section dealing with voting technology is of particular interest to those concerned about the accuracy and security of elections in that it explicitly recommends a requirement for a voter verifiable paper trail on all voting systems.
The Commission's report very correctly recognizes the need to ensure voter confidence in the election process through a verification process. However, the report specifically recommends that the status of the voter verified record should be left to the states. This is unacceptable. It is fundamental to the integrity of the democratic process that it is the voters and not the machines that ultimately confirm the accuracy of their votes.
The record verified by the voter is the only physical record that voter has confirmed and should be recognized as such. It should not be offered to voters as a placebo to ensure their confidence if it does not actually provide reason for that confidence. It is crucial for a transparent election process is a record of each vote that has been verified by the voters themselves. It must be human readable, it must be genuinely permanent and preserved in the manner that all election materials are preserved, and it must be used to confirm the accuracy of machine counts, whether those counts come from DREs or optical scanners. When inconsistencies between hand counts of paper records and machine-tabulated records are uncovered in an audit or recount, the totals of the voter verified records must be considered the true and correct record of the voter's vote.
And mandatory random manual audits are critically important. While the Commission's report recommends audits to verify the accuracy of voting systems, it is unclear about the mechanism through which such audits shall be conducted and does not specify the need for hand counts. Meaningful audits require hand counts - it is not possible to confirm the accuracy of machine counts with more machine counts. Publicly observed hand counts are the only means to achieve complete certainty of the vote totals and should be required in all audits and recounts.
Of course there is a bill introduced in Congress that would do all this. It has over 150 co-sponsors and has generated widespread constituent support across the country. The voter verification language in this bill was carefully crafted and benefited from the input of computer scientists, disability organizations, and election reform advocates. This bill deals comprehensively with the broad-based and legitimate concerns about the accuracy of vote casting and counting on electronic voting systems by mandating random manual audits to verify the accuracy of electronic data and prohibit the use of undisclosed software, the use of wireless communications devices, and the connection of voting systems to the Internet. The bill, introduced by Rep. Rush Holt as HR 550, deserves to be passed as written and passed quickly, in time to affect the 2006 elections.
The Commission has identified the importance of a voter verified paper record requirement, audits, and the prohibition of undisclosed voting system software to ensuring confidence in the election process. We urgently need Federal legislation establishing that it is the voters, rather than a secret and non-transparent software code that ultimately confirm the accuracy of their votes. Congress must not be allowed to use the Commission's report as justification for weakening the language of HR 550. The bill should be passed as written and a companion bill should be introduced and passed in the Senate at once.