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Scoop Feedback: Re. The Paper Ballot Coalition

Two pieces of feedback in response to Michael Collins report.

American Coup: A Flaw In The Emerging US Election Reform Consensus - An impressive coalition of election fraud-election integrity groups signed an open letter to the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives calling for paper ballots as the only standard for voting in the United States. This open letter is encouraging on a number of levels but it leaves the door open for election fraud by allowing optical scan voting machines to stay in place. Referring to "a paper ballot, whether counted by optical-scan system or hand…" does not address the numerous problems associated with optical scan systems. See... Coalition Paper Ballot Call Spares Vote Villains

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From Brad Friedman


Concerning Michael Collins' latest article in regard to the coalition formed to demand a paper BALLOT for every vote cast in America, he has made a number of points (and perhaps one error, at least in terminology) that I'd like to clear up.

Of course, as the organization I co-founded ( VelvetRevolution.us) is one of the coalition members that you are critical of for this effort -- and as I was one of several folks instrumental in drafting the letter and launching the campaign -- I'd hope he'd feel free to touch base with me any time in regard to such concerns before running such an article as I may be able to help clear up some of misapprehensions, such as the ones included in his article.

First to the mentioned "error". Collins refers throughout the article to Voter Verified Paper Ballots (VVPB) as having been required in several states, as well as being a part of Rep. Rush Holt's previous HR550 election reform bill. Holt has never called for Voter Verified Paper BALLOTS in either of the previous iterations of his legislation, but rather, he has called for Voter Verified Paper TRAILS (or Records). There is a notable difference, and confusing the terminology as I believe he has in his article, may lead to much confusion here.

A BALLOT is, by definition for the most part, already "voter verified". It is marked by the voter and counted by election officials. Where one exists. On the other hand, a so-called "Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail" (or VVPAT, as they are frequently referred to), tends to refer to the reel-to-reel type paper strips that some touch-screen DRE systems use.

The dirty little secret is that those VVPATs are rarely, if ever, actually counted and are most decidely NOT ballots. Neither the voting machine companies, nor the Election Officials who use such faulty and dangerous equipment refer to the VVPAT as a ballot, because if they did, they likely realize they'd actually have to count them -- which they do not do, by and large, at this time.

As to Collins' criticism that the coalition, in calling for a paper BALLOT for every vote cast is ignoring the dangers of optically scanned counted ballots, as well as other important issues in the our campaign which you describe as a "politically unsophisticated half measure", I'd argue that the campaign is anything but "politically unsophisticated".

We are aware of the many issues important to election reform, as well as the political realities currently being faced for any new election reform legislation.

For a start, our letter says in the very first paragraph, in regard to the panoply of issues that must be dealt with in any upcoming legislation, [emphasis added ]

While there are many areas of concern for any such legislation, none is more essential to the accuracy of our elections and the confidence among our electorate than for there to be a paper ballot for every vote cast. Not a paper "trail" or a paper "record," but a paper ballot .

I do not speak for the entire coalition, but I'm rather confident that all current members of the group realize that this aspect of reform -- the requirement for a paper BALLOT for every vote cast -- is but one of many needed requirements. The statement points out that we feel none, however, is more important than ensuring we actually have that paper BALLOT.

The coalition is broad in that some might be okay with optically-scanned paper ballots while others would prefer (or demand) hand-counted paper ballots. But I believe nobody in the coaltion is unaware of the dangers presented by the unchecked, secret software used in optical scanners to count those ballots.

While nobody has yet seen the revised version of Holt's bill, to be presented in the new Congress, you'll note that even the previous version required publicly disclosed source code for such voting equipment, and mandatory random audits to work go with any such optically-counted ballots (as inadequate as I personally found the protocols for that audit to be in the previous version. I have reason, however, to believe such protocols will be greatly improved in the upcoming version.)

In other words, Election Reform certainly doesn't stop at the requirement for a paper BALLOT, though it most certainly starts there! That, despite Collins' suggestion that the groups in the coalition have somehow failed to notice the other concerns you mention or don't care about them. That suggestion is simply without merit. I would have made that clear -- saving him the effort spent in posting a misapprehension -- had he contacted me before posting his comments.

I'm more than happy to discuss the relative merits and/or dangers of hand-counted paper BALLOTS with anyone (with or without open source software, precinct based tabulation, properly run audits, etc.). But I can assure you, without the requirement to actually have such BALLOTS to count in the first place, any such discussion will be quite moot.

As Congress moves foward with Election Reform and has, until this time, shown themselves to regard faulty, hackable, inaccurate, dangerous touch-screen DRE systems with so-called "Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails", as the "solution" to our election ills (it most decidely is not) I'd suggest legislation that allows such VVPAT's and touch-screen DRE's for at least the next two years will be regarded as Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Part II, by the time 2008 rolls around.

We certainly don't need a repeat of HAVA. I fear we may get one no matter what we do, but at least we'll have a chance if we ensure a paper BALLOT for every vote cast.

Thus, I'd suggest -- as the coalition does in its letter/statement -- that with the many other concerns about our electoral system, including many of the civil rights issues you correctly point to, none for the moment is more important than ensuring we get that paper BALLOT. We must ensure that we do not forward for at least two more years, with a voting method which simply CANNOT be verified or certified as safe and simply doesn't work even as it succeeds in disenfranchising thousands or millions of Americans.

If we have a BALLOT, we can fight about how it should be counted. If we don't, we are simply screwed. Don't let Congress give the thumbs up to such un-verifiable technology as touch-screen DRE's. Please join us in encouraging every American citizen to sign the letter at http://www.VelvetRevolution.us/Campaigns/PaperBallots and send that letter to their Congress Members to demand a BALLOT NOW.

Thanks is due, despite the above, to both Collins' and Scoop for the tireless efforts in continuing to move forward with such important work and reoprting.

Brad Friedman
BradBlog.com, Creator/Managing Editor
VelvetRevolution.us, Co-Founder

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From Paul Lehto

Re: Debate about Rush Holt's prior use of the term "Ballot" to refer to paper trails.

In contrast to Michael Collins use of the call for a "paper ballot" as having been made previously by Rep Holt for the purpose of promoting paper audit trails for DREs in the present version of HR 550, Brad Friedmann says "Holt has never called for Voter Verified Paper BALLOTS in either of the previous iterations of his legislation, but rather, he has called for Voter Verified Paper TRAILS (or Records). There is a notable difference, and confusing the terminology as I believe he has in his article, may lead to much confusion here."

However, while Holt has not IN HIS LEGISLATION called for paper ballots, Holt has used "ballot" terminology even on his official website, not to mention in verbal statements. From his website FAQ:

"The measure would require all voting machines to produce an actual paper record that voters can inspect to check the accuracy of their votes and that election officials can use to verify votes in the event of a computer malfunction, hacking, or other irregularity. Experts often refer to this paper record as a "voter-verified paper ballot ." http://www.house.gov/sites/members/nj12_holt/HR550.shtml

The confusion here between Collins and Friedman, I submit, comes from Holt himself, who has repeatedly used "Ballot" terminology with respect to old versions of HR 550.

The larger point here is that "ballot" is a somewhat fluid and ambiguous term in its actual usage, since when Rep. Holt uses the term ballot it can refer to a paper audit record that is not counted on the first count and released on election night. Therefore, confusion in this area will persist until for the sake of a particular discussion the term "ballot" is defined.

Even more important is whether or not, at the end of the new HR 550 process, the public will be able to meaningfully supervise elections. God knows the government can not supervise itself concerning its own power and taxing authority, so the public must provide the check. If there are any holes of secret vote counting, nontransparency or secret software in which we are not entitled as member of the public to ALL information concerning it and on a nearly instantaneous basis, just as a real supervisor would, then there is no effective check on government power in these elections. Just as a burglar moves to find the unlocked window, partially securing our elections or partially providing for public supervision will not work.

Paul Lehto
Attorney at Law

ENDS

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