By Brad Friedman on 7/20/2007, 2:04pm PT  

I'll likely speak more about this today while Guest Hosting the Peter B. Collins Show, but I had some thoughts while reading the New York Times piece that John Gideon posted here late last night on the last minute compromises being attempted to keep the Holt Election Reform Bill from its rumored death throes.

The subject of accessible voting systems for the disabled comes up throughout the piece with Holt reportedly "express[ing] a preference for optically scanned ballots marked by voters, but...House leaders...siding with advocates for the handicapped, who fear that they cannot use optical ballots without help."

Later, it's reported that "Advocates for the blind and the disabled also threatened to oppose the bill if it went too far in discouraging the use of touch-screen machines before the optical scanners were made easier for them to use," with Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reportedly concerned about "undercut[ing] any of the gains that the disabled had made in voting without assistance."

That issue has always been a concern of election integrity folks, even while a large swath of the disabled community, including the powerful blind lobbyist Jim Dickson, his organization The American Association of Persons with Disabilities, and the entire National Federation of the Blind, had long ago become compromised when they accepted huge donations from voting machine companies such as Diebold.

But the fact is nowhere in the Times piece is it mentioned that blind and disabled voters could still use non-tabulating electronic touch-screen voting systems which produce a real paper ballot to be counted by another means without posing the same dangers as Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems.

Thus, both the blind and disabled communities, along with the apparently-less-than-educated members of the U.S. House and Senate, seem unaware that there are even such devices available. The lack of distinction between those two types of devices must really be laid at the feet of Rush Holt himself who has conflated the idea of DREs with non-tabulating Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) from the get-go...

His own FAQ on his website [PDF] originally conflated the two ideas, and he has done so personally during a conversation that he and I have had about his bill during my efforts to try to help him find common ground with the Election Integrity community that has opposed his bill for a number of reasons. For example:

Some...are arguing that using the term “paper ballot” should not be applied to DRE print-outs, because it gives “false” gravitas to something made by a machine vs. something marked by hand. Of course, thousands of voters require the assistance of a machine to create a paper ballot, and using different terminology to refer to a “hand marked” ballot than is used to refer to a “machine-marked” or “machine printed” ballot would create two classes of ballots; the “ballots” of the able-bodied and those not seeking language assistance could come to be treated differently than the “records” of the disabled and language minorities under the law.

Later, the FAQ seems to have been amended somewhat to be a bit clearer about the difference, but the text above still remains, conflates and confuses.

Had he been explaining the difference to Congress members long ago, the disabled community wouldn't have had the opportunity to hijack his bill and/or scare the death out of Democrats who are beholden to that voting block, yet under-educated on the fact that alternative options to DREs are out there, which offer the same assistance for disabled voters, but without the ever-present dangers that DRE systems bring to the entire electoral process.

I take no joy in seeing Holt's bill go down, if in fact it does. I worked on it before it's introduction, after all. And it could have, should have, been the election reform that the American voters have long been clamouring for.

But if the "compromise legislation" that the NYTimes describes comes to pass --- forcing states who use DREs to add so-called "paper trails" to their systems, which are just as easy to game and just as unreliable (if not more so) than systems without "paper trails" --- we'll be in even worse shape than we already are.

"Compromise legislation," particularly in this case, enacted in cahoots with Election Officials and voting systems vendors, is exactly that; compromised. Compromising on the integrity of our electoral system for political expedience, or for the benefit of one constituency over another, is exactly the opposite of what is needed for real Election Reform in America.

I'll make it easy: A paper ballot --- that is actually counted --- for every vote cast in America.

How difficult could that be? At least if your only constituency is the American voter. That doesn't seem to be the case, however, in the U.S. Congress.

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