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HR 811: Electronic Tallies Can Still Trump Ballots

HR 811 - Electronic Tallies Can Still Trump Paper Ballots On Election Day

by Lynn Landes
12 March 2007

This is a good news / bad news story. The good news - If the Holt bill (HR 811) passes into law, it will be the first time since Feb.14, 1899 that paper ballots will be required in federal elections. Americans will finally regain their right to a paper ballot, to verify their ballot, and to correct their ballot, if necessary.

The bad news - The electronic tally, not paper ballots, can continue to constitute the “official” ballot on Election Day, regardless of obvious errors. Although, it does not appear to be a requirement for election officials to accept an electronic tally over paper ballots.

Matthew Dennis from Holt’s office says, “…on Election Day, neither a corrected paper ballot nor a paper emergency ballot will be HAND counted (unless the jurisdiction does that anyway).” That appears to mean that it’s up to state and local election officials to decide what counts and what doesn’t count on Election Day.

Under the bill, paper ballots must be hand-counted and, thus considered the “official” ballot, in the following situations: 1) paper-only voting systems, which applies to 0.6% of voters, 2) mandatory audits which only affect 10% or less of all precincts depending on the margin of victory - audits take place one week after Election Day giving corrupt election officials ample opportunity to tamper with secret (i.e., anonymous) ballots, and 3) in the remote event of a recount, which also gives corrupt election officials plenty of time to commit vote fraud.

Moreover, the electronic tally can still prevail in an audit or recount if paper ballots are compromised (i.e., damaged). This provision could act as an incentive to sabotage paper ballots.

The “emergency ballot” provision is also confusing. Emergency ballots will be made available on request by the voter in the event of “the failure of voting equipment or other circumstance at a polling place that causes a delay” and will be treated as a “regular” ballot. However, the bill doesn’t define what constitutes a delay. These ballots could create chaos at the polls if voters demand emergency ballots from resistant election officials. And as previously noted, emergency ballots may not be counted anyway, according to Holt spokesperson Dennis.

Voting rights groups are divided over the bill. Some are enthusiastically supporting it in its entirety. Others, led by, are demanding a ban of all touchscreen machines, but strangely, they want to replace touchscreens with computerized ballot markers and computerized optical scanners. That seems to constitute a distinction without a difference.

The most onerous part of the bill is the requirement to provide some sort of technology at each polling place for the disabled. A few leaders of the disabled community may support it, but many of their members have already concluded that voting machines create more problems than solutions.

Although the Holt bill returns the paper ballot to the American voter, HR 811 also allows a handful of private, foreign, and multi-national corporations to remain in the driver’s seat on Election Day. Republican-friendly ES&S and Diebold may continue to count 80% of all votes. And, if history is any judge, voting irregularities and Election Day chaos and confusion will continue to overwhelmingly benefit Republican candidates.

Besides pushing for amendments to the Holt bill, activists are also putting pressure on Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and other members of Congress to re-introduce last year’s HR 6200, which required paper ballots and hand-counts for the next presidential election. That bill should be amended to apply to all federal elections.

American voters deserve clarity. There should be a single standard for voting that election officials from the poorest town to the richest city can follow. And that standard should include nothing more complicated than a pencil, paper, and local hand-count of all ballots on Election Day. It’s simple and straightforward. And that’s what it will take to restore confidence in America’s voting system.


Lynn Landes is one of the nation's leading researchers and analysts on voting integrity issues. She publishes Contact lynnlandes @

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