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Stateside: Prelude to the 2008 Election, Part 2

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Prelude to the 2008 Election, Part 2

::H.R. 811, the Holt Bill::

In February 2007, Holt—along with 216 co-sponsors—introduced H.R. 811 in the US House of Representatives to amend the Help Americans Vote Act with respect to ballot verification and mandatory paper record audit capacity. The bill also proposed the establishment of Election Audit Boards, and prohibited the use of undisclosed software. It was referred to the Committee on House Administration, where it was greatly amended during the mark-up process, following hearings held by the Elections Subcommittee. The Committee’s report, 110-154 can be downloaded from the Committee Reports section at http://thomas.loc.gov.

The minority view, signed by three Republican members of the Elections Subcommittee, are included in the report on pages 77-84. It lists the major objections to the bill, which include: using paper as the official ballot of record, mandating the replacement of paperless DREs by 2008 and DREs equipped with “toilet roll” voter verified paper audit trails by 2010, unfettered access to protected intellectual property, disenfranchisement of disabled voters, unreasonable federal election auditing protocols, unnecessary creation of a federal private right of action, insufficient funding, and unattainable state compliance deadlines. In the minority view, “If H.R. 811 becomes law, Americans just could bear witness to the most dysfunctional administration of Federal elections in our nation’s history.”

::The Lobbyists::

During the mark-up process, Microsoft made a submission that the requirement in the bill for DRE vendors’ software to be publicly available was too broad and infringed on their proprietary rights to keep the Microsoft operating system secret. H.R. 811 was duly amended in Microsoft’s favor.

Other opponents to the bill included a disability rights group and the Electronic Technology Council, which consists of companies that offer voting system technology hardware products, software and services to support the electoral process. In a white paper entitled Comments on Help America Vote Act Amendments that is online at http://gop.cha.house.gov/fl13/ETCWHITEPAPER.pdf, the Council says that it supports the concept of having a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), but doesn’t support the use of the VVPAT as the official ballot of record.

The ETC white paper also quoted a State of Nevada report that “it took a four-person team a total of four hours to manually audit just one paper roll at a rate of four minutes per ballot.” The report stated that in federal elections there is an average of 20 contests per ballot, and multiple candidates per contest. “With intersecting district boundaries, multiple languages, and multiple part primary elections, it is not unusual to have several hundred ballot styles in a single county in one election.”

In an interview with Scoop this week, David Beirne, the Executive Director of ETC, confirmed that a July 17 letter to the Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee, which refers to the white paper, “continues to reflect our position on any attempt at electoral reform legislation.” The main reason for their concern about using paper ballots as the official ballot of record is that “the paper component was added after the initial product design and is subject to its own product evolution.” A chart in the white paper shows that it takes 54 months to go through the phases of development, Federal testing and certification, State testing and certification, manufacturing, delivery/installation, and training/election prep.

Moreover, Beirne said, “In many ways, the use of electronic voting systems is subject to an absolute standard, whereas more traditional paper-based systems are not. It would be helpful if everyone understood what the threat models were for all voting systems. To my knowledge no one has truly developed a risk model for voting systems in general, nor have they done so for electronic voting systems.”

Another group that lobbied Congress in the time between the amended bill being reported out of Committee and being scheduled for the House floor for a vote was the National Association of Secretaries of State, which sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi stating that the requirements in the bill would be impossible for them to meet in time for the next election.

So, although H.R. 811 appeared on the House Majority Leader’s list of legislation that would be voted on for the week beginning September 3, and again for the week beginning September 17, behind-the-scene negotiations meant that it was never brought to the floor of the House. A new Holt bill, allowing for states to opt in to providing a VVPAT, instead of being required to do so, will be introduced this week, his office told Scoop.

::The Nelson Bill::

In the Senate, a companion bill to H.R. 811 was introduced by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida in February, 2007, and in November he introduced a new companion bill, S.2295, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. Included in the Nelson bill is a ban on DREs by 2012, modeled on the Florida ban mentioned in Part 1, which could conceivably become part of the final legislation—worked out in conference of the Senate and House—that would be sent to the President for signature.

Senator Nelson’s introduction speech starts on page S13694 of the Congressional Record, easily found by entering that page number in the Search box at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/r110query.htm

Part 3 will examine the efforts of the activist community around the issues raised by the Holt legislation, and the controversies within that community.

*************

rosalea.barker@gmail.com

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