Peter B. Collins Show Hosts Extremely Lively Discussion on Pros and Cons of Controversial House Bill's Allowance for Use of Dangerous DRE Touch-Screen Voting Systems
ALSO: CA SoS Debra Bowen Refuses to Support HR 811, Concerned About Putting 'Paper Trails Into Statute'...
By Brad Friedman on 7/2/2007, 6:35am PT  

Blogged by Brad from Nashville after Escaping Atlanta...

"It's been a thriller," said the eponymous host of the Peter B. Collins Show as Friday's live radio debate wrapped up between myself and attorney Lawrence D. Norden, Chair of the NYU Brennan Center for Justice's Task Force on Voting System Security.

Norden made, in our spirited debate, what I believe to be some stunning admissions.

Complete "must listen" audio of the debate is available at the end of this article...

Norden, and his Brennan Center, have been big supporters of Rep. Rush Holt's (D-NJ) Election Reform Bill (HR 811) in the media, including through testimony and lobbying on Capitol Hill. Though I helped craft some of its provisions before the bill was introduced earlier this year, and though it contains some much needed elements of voting system reform, I cannot support bill at this time for a number of reasons. Most notably: the bill's allowance for the use of un-verifiable, disenfranchising, easily hackable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems.

We've long covered the debate surrounding HR 811, and the notion being passed on --- usually as unquestioned gospel --- by the bulk of its many supporters, that while most of them would love to see DREs banned once and for all, such a ban could never be passed by the Democratically controlled House of Representatives. While the claim is consistently made, Holt's most ardent supporters, none of them, to date, have put forth the name of a single member who supports the bill (it currently enjoys more than 200 co-sponsors) but who would vote against it if it included a ban on DREs.

In other words, I believe that point is simply a hoax that many of them have, unfortunately, bought into without bothering to do due diligence and find out if that claim is actually true.

(See our Special Coverage page with our many notable articles and action items consider the Holt Bill right here:

Though the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate in the state of Florida were able to pass precisely such a ban on DREs, under a Republican Governor, the unquestioned legend goes that such a ban could not pass in the Democratic U.S. House or U.S. Senate. That notion seems to come most directly --- if without evidence --- from both Holt's office, and their biggest supporters, People for the American Way (PFAW), who are on record as actually preferring DRE touch-screens to paper ballot systems.

Unfortunately, Norden is one of those folks who has bought into the "DRE ban can't pass" line. Even though he admitted, however, when he was pressed during our spirited debate, that he is unable to name a single such Congress member that would vote against such a ban...

BRAD: Can you name a single Congress Member who is in favor of this bill, but who would withdraw their support if it included a ban on DREs? Because all of the ones that I've talked to don't...

NORDEN: ...What I can tell you to do is look at a map of where DREs are, and all of the Congress Members that are supporting these bills, I would be willing to wager that the vast majority of them would not be willing to support this bill if it meant that their states would have to be get rid of their machines entirely.

BRAD: Well, let's not wager on our democracy. Are you able to confirm a single name? Have you talked to single member who has said "I will support this bill, but not if it includes a ban on DREs"? Cause I can't find one, Larry.

NORDEN: Well, I have to admit I haven't posed that question to anybody because I haven't thought that that was the most important thing to do to make our voting systems, and these machines, as secure as possible.
NORDEN: If Brad could come up with 220 Congress Members that would be willing to support a bill that bans DREs, I might reconsider my position.

BRAD: Well look, you guys have, I'm sorry to say, the big money and the big lobbying power on Capitol Hill...

NORDEN: ...Not the Brennan Center...

BRAD: ...and to tell us that we can't ban systems because it won't pass in Congress, but be unwilling to name a name, so that constituents can call their members and make sure they're educated about this --- cause I've talked to a lot of members, and they're not educated. They think that if you ban DREs, blind and disabled folks won't be able to vote. That's just not true. There are ballot marking devices that they can use just fine.

Nonetheless, and in defiance of information about how to hack DRE systems, including those with paper trails, as detailed in his own landmark Brennan Center report on 120 E-Voting security risks, Norden continues to support the Holt bill under a number of dubious premises. We discussed those dubious premises in what I'd consider to be a "must listen audio debate."

While Norden feels that the most important step towards making our elections safe is securing the machines themselves and improving certification procedures, in fact, the only thing that may lead us to safer elections, in which we can have confidence again, is full transparency in the system so that citizen oversight can help keep elections safe and secure. DRE voting systems offer zero transparency in voting, on a number of levels which simply cannot be overcome when using that particular technology.

I fear I failed to make the transparency point adequately in the heat of our debate in the short time between commercial breaks. Of course, your feedback after listening to the debate would be most welcome here in comments.

Of additional note, the host of our debate, the good Peter B. Collins, notified us at the top of the debate that while Rep. Holt refuses to return his calls requesting a similar interview and/or debate, at least CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen is on record, in a recent interview, at refusing to support the Holt bill as it's currently written, due to its many existing flaws. Unlike the majority of other election officials across the nation who oppose it for different reasons, Bowen believes it's not strong enough.

"I have worked with the author to try and strengthen the bill, but have not taken a position in support," she told Collins last Wednesday before explaining the dangers of institutionalizing the DRE paper trail, as the Holt bill will do.

"I'm concerned that if we put the whole concept of a voter-verified paper trail into statute, and it's something we know is problematic, both from a practical standpoint and because that's not actually what happens [voters don't and can't verify their votes], we may find ourselves once again trying to improve something that's very expensive and that would be better to do right in the first place," the Secretary explained.

The audio of Collins's interview with Bowen about HR 811 is also posted below.

Among the other misconceptions, misleading points, and/or out-and-out incorrect assertions put forward by Norden on Friday --- with which I heartily took issue during our debate --- were his contentions that Holt's mandated paper trails as added to the paperless touch-screen systems in the contested FL-13 Jennings/Buchanan U.S. House election debacle would have made any difference in that election; that while Holt is flawed, it's the only opportunity for election reform in this session of Congress prior to the '08 elections; and that blind and disabled voters need dangerous DRE technology (when, in reality, there are non-tabulating, electronic ballot marking devices available which offer a nearly identical interface, but which produce an actual paper ballot without the many dangers of DRE systems).

I respect Norden, along with many of Holt's other supporters who have endorsed the bill despite their recognition that DREs should not, and cannot, be safely used in American democracy.

However, I simply stand, humbly and firmly, by the fact that they are just plain wrong --- and in many cases hoodwinked by PFAW and Holt --- in their support of this flawed bill for dubious, and frequently unsupportable, reasons.

Please give the very lively audio debate a listen and let me know what you think.

Brad Friedman debates Brennan Center's Larry Norden on HR 811...
(appx 40 mins)

Peter B. Collins interviews CA SoS Debra Bowen, refusing to support HR 811...
(appx 3 mins)

Previous notable on-air debates between Brad and Holt supporters:

Take action to amend the Holt Election Reform Bill!
- Email Congress!
- Call you members! See for more details, coverage, talking points & information on all of the above!
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