Guest blogged by Ellen Theisen, Co-Director of VotersUnite.Org
(This is the first of a two-part series. Tomorrow: An excerpt from the author's companion article, “Senator Feinstein’s Election Reform Bill: A Constitutional Heresy,” describing even graver concerns about S. 1487, a bill recently introduced in the Senate.)
In September of 2003, when I was working with VerifiedVoting, Greg Dinger, Keone Kealoha, and I coordinated the first national activist effort in the current grassroots election integrity movement. We had a calling campaign to get more co-sponsors for Representative Rush Holt’s (D-NJ) election reform bill, then called HR 2239. In two months, the number of co-sponsors more than doubled — from 29 to 61. After the disastrous November 2003 Fairfax, Virginia, election, we rejoiced when Republican Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) signed on and the bill became bipartisan. By the end of 2003, there were 94 co-sponsors.
But Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) was chairman of the House Administration Committee, and the bill never even got a hearing. Nor did Holt’s subsequent version of the bill in the 109th Congress, HR 550. But this year’s bill in the 110th, HR 811, has been marked up in committee and is expected to soon come to the House floor for a vote. This should be a time for celebration for me, but it’s not.
After more than three years of supporting election reform bills introduced by Representative Rush Holt, I am saddened to see the many severe flaws in the version of HR 811 as it was passed out of committee last month. This year’s bill had serious flaws when it was introduced in January. Primarily, it failed to accommodate a nearly unanimous agreement among citizen activists and computer scientists who have watched election disasters over the past three years — the agreement that electronic voting machines (DREs) should not be used in U.S. elections. I worked with many people to try to get an amendment requiring a paper ballot, one that was actually to be counted, for every vote cast. To my mind, that one significant improvement would have been worth tolerating the other flaws.
But the bill that was passed out of committee still allows for invisible, unverifiable, electronic ballots on DRE touch-screens as the official ballot for the all-important initial count where electronic voting systems are used. Adding a "paper trail" to those machines makes no real difference. Voters still can’t verify the electrical charges that make up the ballots that are counted on Election Night by the DRE.
In addition to other flaws that remained in the bill as it came out of committee, some changes removed valuable safeguards from the bill, and other changes introduced new problems. (Both versions of the bill can be viewed by inputting "HR 811" at the government's legislation search engine, Thomas.gov. The complete text of the current version is here. )
In my opinion, HR 811 will cause more problems than it will solve.
My primary objection is the extreme shift in the concept of “democracy” that the bill institutes legally. Specifically, it gives a federal stamp of approval to “ballots” that will never be counted, and it endorses secret vote-counting.
Let me explain seven of the bill's severe failures....