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Warren Stewart: The Devil in the Details

The Devil in the Details

Carter-Baker, California, and the Integrity of American Elections
by Warren Stewart, Director of Legislative Issues and Policy,

Most of the very correct objections to the Carter-Baker report appearing in the days since its release have focused on the deeply objectionable Voter ID recommendations. Less attention has been paid to the watershed significance of the Commission’s call to congress to establish a nationwide requirement for a voter verified paper record (VVPR) of every vote and the subtle, but devastating, flaws in the details of that recommendation.

It is critical that their language specifically recommending that it be left up to the states to determine if the voter verified record is the “ballot of record,” is not used as a blueprint for legislation that would result in a meaningless and expensive placebo. The Commission’s recognized that “regular audits of voting machines are also needed to double-check the accuracy of the machines’ vote totals”, but then recommends only that officials “publicly test all types of voting machines before, during, and after Election Day and allow public observation of zero machine counts at the start of Election Day and the machine certification process.” Such testing is not an audit in which hand counts of voter verified ballots are compared to machine counts.

Two adamantly paperless DRE states, Maryland and Georgia, have been making noises recently about accepting the importance of VVPR, which is to be commended, but if the status of the VVPR is left up to states the results could be yet another windfall for the vendors, with millions of dollars spent to provide and, in some cases, develop printers for their machines, while the VVPR is simply tossed in the trash.

In California right now there is pressure on the Governor to veto recently passed legislation (SB 370) that requires the VVPR be used in the state’s minimal (1%) random audit. California’s audit requirement was established in response to concerns about punch card machines, long before the advent of paperless electronic machines, and its implementation has been haphazard at best. The current legislation is merely meant to clarify and update the original intent of the audit. Not surprisingly, it passed unanimously in the State Senate and by a wide margin in the Assembly, but all will be lost if the Schwarzenegger vetoes since the legislature is now out of session.

If Congress uses the Commission’s recommendations as justification for weakening the language of existing legislation like Rep. Rush Holt’s Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (HR 550), or to introduce a new bill that requires a VVPR but leaves it to the states to determine its status, the situation in California could be repeated in states across the country. Rather than Congress providing the entire nation with some assurance about the accuracy and security of voting systems, it would be left to State Election Administrators and Governors to mitigate that assurance.

Fortunately many states have passed excellent legislation not only creating a requirement that voting systems produce or require the use of a VVPR, but also establishing that the VVPR will be used in audits and recounts and that, in the case of inconsistencies with machine counts, the VVPR will be correctly considered the true and correct record of the voter’s vote. However, most states do not have such clear language in their election laws, and Federal legislation on the issue should be strong and unambiguous.

The Commission’s acknowledgement of the fundamental necessity of vote verification by the voters and not the machines marks the end of one battle and the beginning of another. Until now, VVPR opponents argued that VVPR was impractical or that it was a bad idea. Now even fierce opponents like Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox have come around to accept the importance of providing a means of verifying the accuracy of electronic voting machines. The next battle will be making sure that the VVPR is actually used in meaningful audits and in recounts – that it serve the purpose for which it was intended: restoring some degree of confidence in the integrity of the election process in America.


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