Friday, February 09, 2007

The Holt bill....again.

I've been reading over the Holt bill which has been introduced in the House of Representatives as an amendment to the Help America Vote Act, which sorely needs amending. I'm not finished mulling it over, and I still have questions. You should see my marked up copy of the bill! That said, I think it smells like progress. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. Some of the positive aspects include:

  • It requires durable, archival quality paper ballots (more on that below)
  • It addresses the need for a system that can be used by the disabled, non-native speakers, and those with literacy problems.
  • It prohibits the use of "undisclosed" software in voting systems
  • It prohibits the use of wireless communication devices in voting systems. (hello? No brainer.)
  • It requires a chain of custody of the voting machines be tightened up, and that election officicals shall:

"ensure that all voting machines and related supplies to be used in the election shall remain secured within storage facilities arranged for by the election official and shall not be removed from such facilities until such time as they are to be delivered to the relevant polling place and secured at the polling place until used in the elections."

Long story short: No Sleepovers.

  • It says emergency paper ballots should not only be available, but they are required to post a notice saying you have the right to a paper ballot. These paper ballots are to be treated as regular ballots, and NOT provisional ballots (which sometimes don't get counted, ya know?)
  • It addresses conflict of interest issues with the voting machine manufactures and testing laboratories.
  • It provides money to the states for implementation.
  • It states that elections can not be certified until the audits are complete.

It also talks about audit requirements. I need to read this over and study a little more. I'll admit I don't know lots and lots about the current auditing requirements, so I don't have an opinion (yet) on whether this is an improvement or not. It does require each state to have an Election Audit Board comprised of members representing the political parties and one unaffiliated member so there are at least seven members on the state boards.


It doesn't abolish DREs, much to my disappointment. I'm not surprised though. I imagine any politician would be hesitant, from a political perspective, to consider flushing away all the money that's been spent on DREs. I still think the voting machine companies should be held accountable for selling us a bill of goods. I want a refund.

Anyway...we still have DREs to deal with, and unfortunately, the bill says that a DRE paper trail is a ballot! That's not a ballot!!! That's a cash register receipt!!! But, it's also not durable, archival paper....which makes me wonder if this bill would end up requiring the DREs to actually print a ballot that would then be hand counted or scanned with an optical scanner. It certainly can be interpreted that way.

"ballots..shall be marked, printed or recorded on durable paper of archival quality capable of withstanding multiple counts and recounts without compromising the fundamental integrity of the ballots, and capable of retaining the information marked, printed or recorded on them for the full duration of the retention and preservation period called for by title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1960 or under applicable State law, whichever is longer."

Do you think the "paper trail" from a DRE meets that standard? I don't.

As for other probems with the bill, Bev Harris of Black Box Voting has a list of her objections. I respect Bev and BBV very much, but I don't agree with all of her thoughts on the bill. I do agree that the EAC needs to be impartial and not "scandal-ridden" but if there's going to be federal involvement in elections like everyone's been begging for, there's gonna be a commission or department or agency or board or something. The fact that there's a federal board doesn't equate to a "dictatorship", but it needs to be run fairly, impartially, openly and in a non-partisan manner. As for the "mush" language, that's how most legislation is written, IME. If you read much legislation, you'll see that it's often intentionally vague. Sometimes it's for political cover, and sometimes its just about the need for wiggle room in implementation process. They're leaving the details to the administrators who are supposed to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law. It's just that it's typical, and to me, not a reason to oppose the bill. And it's not's a version that amends another bill and that's how bills are written....eventually it gets put right into the original bill with strike-throughs on the edits and it's easier to see the context....but for me, that's not a reason to be oppose this bill.

One bill isn't going to solve all the problems in the system. Like it or not, the government runs on incremental change. It's slow. It's plodding. It's maddening. But it's the way it is. People in my circle of election integrity compadres are mostly not very happy about this bill, but after reading it myself I see it as a mostly positive step. It's not the whole trip, by any means (I mean, we still have these damn DREs) but it's progress. I'm not completely sold on the idea of all hand counted, all paper, all the time ballots, and computers are a fact of life. I believe we can use them in our elections, but not carelessly and thoughtlessly as we have thus far.

As I hear others talking about this bill one of their biggest problem seems to be the paper trail vs paper ballot issue, but I think the fact that ballots have to be on durable, archival quality paper that can withstand an audit will make the DRE paper trail obsolete. I would be much happier with this bill if it specifically said that paper trails are NOT ballots. And I'd be much much MUCH happier if the Holt bill said the voting machine manufacturers have to take back their garbage and give the taxpayers a big ol' refund, but I don't see THAT happening anytime soon. This is pretty good for now. It still needs some work, but it's pretty good, and I'm not willing to completely toss out the good, in search of the perfect. I think we can work to improve existing legislation AND fight for hand counted ballots at the same time.

So there's my blah blah blah after a preliminary reading of the Holt bill. Please stay tuned ...

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home