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Bradblog: Failings of Holt Election Reform Bill

The False Dichotomies Being Used by Democrats and Their Public-Advocacy Group Supporters to Prop Up the Failings of the Holt Election Reform Bill

Misrepresentation of the 'Opposition', Fear of Failure, and a Bizarre, Unsubstantiated 'Civil Rights' Argument All Employed to Avoid Legitimate Debate on the Dangers of the Pending Legislation...
By Brad Friedman

We've been discussing the pros and cons of Rep. Rush Holt's Election Reform bill (HR 811 [PDF]) since it dropped two weeks ago in the House.

There is, no doubt, much more to say about the specific pros and cons in detail here as we move forward. For the moment, allow me to first address three false dichotomies opportunistically and/or disingenuously and/or naively being used by supporters of Holt's legislation in order to help see it passed by Congress.

In doing so, I'll share some of what I've learned over the past several weeks via my personal investigations into why the Democrats who support the bill, along with their closely-allied public advocacy groups, are currently unable or unwilling to show the necessary courage to insist upon the banning of disenfranchising, failed DRE/touch-screen voting system technology from all American elections.

The inability, or unwillingness, of such groups to stand up and call for what most know to be the right thing is occurring despite the fact that most of those groups actually agree --- and will admit privately, if not always publicly --- that DRE technology has no place in our electoral system and is a grave menace to true Electoral Integrity.

Collectively, these three arguments are being used to shore up support for a bill which offers much good (DISCLOSURE: I participated in the drafting of the bill myself, and did what I could --- sometimes successfully, sometimes not --- to improve its language and provisions), yet ultimately may be prove to be as dangerous as the disastrous Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and risks becoming known as HAVA 2 by 2008. And, as I've pointed out before, this time the Democrats won't have the Republicans or Bob Ney to blame.

It's Either Holt or Hand-Counted Paper Ballots...

The first of the three false dichotomies being forwarded by some of the bill's supporters is to suggest that there are only two choices: Pass the Holt bill 'as is', or continue an unwinnable campaign for all hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB).

The now oft-repeated intimation is the very definition of a strawman, a canard, and a truly disingenuous false dichotomy. ...

While Hand-Counted Paper Ballots might be swell and offer maximum transparency and citizen oversight --- as well as not being nearly as difficult or unwieldy to accomplish as many under-informed folks may believe --- the majority of Holt detractors, including myself, are not fighting for hand-counted paper ballots at this time. Rather, we are fighting for a necessary ban on the failed and disenfranchising technology of DRE/touch-screen systems, which succeeded spectacularly in 2006 in ensuring that thousands (or perhaps millions) of legally registered voters were unable to cast a vote at all, much less have that vote counted either accurately or transparently.

Banning DRE's does not mean all votes must be counted by hand. Most supporters of the Holt Bill know that --- or should, if they don't --- yet seem to be using the false argument when convenient to distract from the real shortcomings and concerns of the Holt legislation.

Optical-scan systems, while also presenting their own security and accuracy concerns, could easily and (fairly) safely be used with publicly-disclosed source code and a mandatory random hand-audit protocol of a sufficient number of ballots to achieve 99% scientific certainty that the reported results of any optically-scanned election are correct.

I say this knowing that those who support nothing less than 100% HCPB would likely disagree.

In either case, suggesting that those who understand the need for a complete ban on failed DRE technology are actually demanding HCPB is a cheap and unsubstantiated political tactic, unworthy of this necessary debate. It serves only to confuse at a time when all well-meaning Election Integrity advocates (and I include Holt in that group) ought to be having a legitimate discussion/debate about these most important matters.

Take Holt or Get Nothing (or Something Even Worse)...

The other false dichotomy being used either disingenuously or naively by Holt supporters, is the notion that "if we don't accept this legislation 'as is' we'll get either nothing or something far worse."


If all of the Democrats and their public-advocacy group supporters stood up today and demanded a ban on all DRE technology in elections --- since it has both the potential and track-record of disenfranchising millions of legally registered voters of all stripes --- it would be a done deal. The only thing keeping such a provision from being included currently in a Federal Election Reform bill is the will to do so, as fostered by the trademark fear that Democrats seem to display when it comes to leading the American People who put them into office in the hopes of such leadership.

As with Iraq Policy, the Democrats continue to legislate from within their "foxholes," as Sen. Russ Feingold described it to me last spring. Instead of leading the way and helping to educate the American electorate towards what is right, they continue to try to legislate what they believe is already popular among Americans. Yet, "what is popular among Americans" is based on what those Americans have been told by the Republican-based corporate media. If Democrats learned to speak up for themselves and set the agenda instead of following it, they'd easily be able to make their case to the American people and help them understand that a DRE/touch-screen voting machine that fails equates to hundreds or even thousands of lost votes in each precinct where such a failure occurs.

At it's heart, the argument instead comes down to the wishes of the Voting Machine Companies and the nation's Elections Officials, many of whom have sold their souls and our democracy to those same companies. Neither of those groups wishes to ban DREs. The former because they stand to make far more money from the sale of DRE's (dozens of systems per precinct, instead of a single op-scan machine per polling place) and the latter because replacing their recently-purchased systems would be too expensive, force them to admit they were in error in the first place, or would otherwise make their jobs more difficult on a number of levels. For example, they'd actually have to tabulate the ballots of voters and make sure the tabulation was correct...astoundingly, such a chore seems anathema to some of the Elections Officials I've seen in operation out there.

We Must Allow for DRE's or 'Language Minority' Voters Will Be Disenfranchised...

This one is, perhaps, the most disturbing and currently the toughest to overcome, for reasons you'll discover shortly.

My investigation into the surprising willingness of "foxholed" Democrats and their public-advocacy group supporters such as Common Cause, PFAW, MoveOn, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, VoteTrustUSA and the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition to support the Holt legislation 'as is' has revealed a stunning point at its core.

Despite the Holt bill's dangerous institutionalization of DRE voting systems, it seems that several of the above groups (and others like them), for whatever reason, have conveniently been hypnotized into believing that the continued use of DRE's is actually a civil rights issue!

The tortured, backwards logic at work here is remarkable. But you'll not find any Voting Machine Companies or many Elections Officials willing to challenge it out loud.

The once-very-popular "disabilities voter" canard has been back-benched for the moment, as it's become clear that even in a worst-case scenario, the Holt bill could easily be amended to allow for a single DRE system in each polling place as an optional voting device for disabled voters who wish to use it. (And even that would be unnecessary, since there are many alternate options for disabled voters that wouldn't require the use of such failed, inaccurate technology.)

The latest public canard then is the notion that "language minority" voters --- those whose first language is not English --- are somehow better served by disenfranchising DRE technology instead of paper ballots, printed in their own language, and counted either by optical-scan or by hand. The Voting Machine Companies and Elections Officials, at least the ones concerned only about keeping their jobs, don't want any legislation. Yet, they are sitting pretty and smiling in the background as the Democrats and Democratic-based groups are doing their dirty work for them under the wholly misguided, unsubstantiated and, in fact, counter-intuitive pretense that banning DRE's would somehow disenfranchise minorities.

The argument is utter hogwash. I welcome any actual evidence that shows I'm wrong, and will happily retract this editorial in the bargain if anyone can do so.

Even if one accepts the dubious argument that somehow a computerized touch-screen interface is better than a printed paper ballot for "language minority" voters, there are better alternatives to DRE's, such as the AutoMARK system, a computerized ballot marking device. It includes the same touch-screen computer interface as a DRE, but simply prints out the voter's ballot to be counted by another method, such as optical-scan or by hand. I am aware of no legitimate reasons to use DRE technology in American democracy.

Despite those facts, and in apparent fear of offending any small piece of their constituency --- no matter how misinformed or misled (or dare I say, disingenuous?) such a constituency may be --- the Democrats and their support groups seem to be willing to gamble with our democracy, that all will hopefully be well enough and gosh, it's better than leading and educating and standing up for what they know is the right thing to do. Better to stay in the "foxholes" than to risk incurring the wrath of any segment of the civil rights community.

At least that's where the advocacy groups seem to sit. Democratic legislators who support the bill seem more interested in not pissing off their state officials back home. It doesn't hurt that they're getting political cover from the public-advocacy groups.

DRE's Are a Menace to both Democracy and Civil Rights,
And It's time to be Honest About That...

DRE's disenfranchise Left and Right, Black and White and everything in between and to either side. Those of us paying very close attention learned that much, week after week, during the 2006 Election Cycle. The result is that many supporters of the previous Holt Legislation (HR 550), as written during the last Congress, have now withheld their support from the 'new and improved' bill since it does not close the door on the failed DRE technology once and for all.

America cannot afford another questionable Presidential Election. Even if Holt's overly-optimistic supporters turn out to be correct and everything in his bill works as designed, the fact is that confidence in our election system is as important to its ongoing viability as anything else.

As long as Americans are unable to ensure for themselves that any given election result is accurate and correctly reflects the will of the voters, the value of democracy will continue to erode in this country. The simple task of any election, at it's heart, is a not-at-all-complicated process of adding one plus one plus one. Only full transparency in all stages of that simple task will begin to bring American democracy back from the precipice over which it now dangerously hangs.

There are many fights ahead in the battle for Electoral Integrity, but none, for the moment, is more important than a full ban on DRE's in order to begin the process of restoring both transparency and confidence in American elections.

The sooner we can dispense with the unhelpful false dichotomies and phony and/or opportunistic and/or unsubstantiated arguments, the sooner we can reach the goal that I believe most Democrats, and Democratic-leaning public interest groups, are truly aiming for: Electoral Integrity in America.


Cross-posted at The BRAD BLOG.

Brad Friedman
THE BRAD BLOG - The uprising continues...
VELVET REVOLUTION - The revolution begins...

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