'It's No Longer my Bill,' Says Congressman of Software Giant's Successful Removal of One of the Bill's Once-Postive Provisions
Call it 'Microsoft 811' Writes an Election Integrity Advocate...
By Brad Friedman on 9/4/2007, 3:13pm PT  

Blogged by Brad from Colorado...

We've been in the woods and off the grid for the past several days, only to return to find that Rep. Rush Holt's (D-NJ) hugely flawed Election Reform bill, HR 811, is said again to finally be coming up for a vote in the U.S. House this week. The claim of an imminent vote on the House floor has been made many times in the past by Holt and his supporters, though this time it's now actually on the schedule of the House Rules Committee for a vote tomorrow on an amendment, as described yesterday by VotersUnite.org's John Gideon, that would move the bill forward even without a mandate that it actually be funded. As well, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has the bill penciled onto his full House Floor calendar to come up as part of business as early as tomorrow, even though it's currently listed there as "Subject to a Rule" --- presumably in reference to whatever happens in the Rules Committee.

As usual, the scheduling, whether real or imagined, as it has been in the past, brings another surge of misinformation from the bill's powerful supporters. Leading the way this time around is MoveOn.org, which sent out an email to members over the weekend asking if it should support the latest "compromise" version of the bill as it's been hammered out, reportedly, between Hoyer and Holt and secretly brokered behind closed doors by longtime HR811 supporters People for the American Way (PFAW).

While MoveOn is asking members if it should support the bill, the mailing --- more accurately described as a "push poll" --- shows MoveOn's hand by misrepresenting quite a bit of what the bill actually does and doesn't do. So we'd be surprised if its members came out as anything but in favor of supporting the bill. But more on that deceptive mailer in a moment, along with some news on Holt himself reportedly now distancing himself from aspects of his very own bill!...

With all of that in mind --- (along with a FULL DISCLOSURE reminder that we were invited to participate in the drafting of the legislation prior to its introduction in this Congress) --- we've long been reporting that the Holt Bill was flawed from the get-go in that it continues to allow for hackable, unsecured, unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting machines along with a number of other problems.

Instead of banning DREs, HR 811 institutionalizes them by allowing their continued use as long as they include a so-called "paper trail" which, as many studies have found, do little if anything to ensure the accuracy or integrity of an election run on such systems. One such study, from NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, described how an election held on a DRE with paper trails could be easily hacked so that both the DRE and the paper trail matched perfectly --- even though the DRE had been hacked to flip the election results. Nonetheless, and remarkably so, the Brennan Center is still apparently supporting this flawed bill which has become even worse through the amendment process in committee and via the PFAW compromise.

Mary Ann Gould, host of the weekly radio program Voice of the Voters, now aptly describes the bill as "Microsoft 811," since the software behemoth brought its considerable lobbying powers to bear and forced Democratic legislators, behind closed doors, to remove all of the public disclosure of source code once called for when the bill was originally introduced. That complete disclosure of source code was one of the bill's strong points, but that provision has now been watered down to the point where even Holt recently admitted at a public event, according to Gould's report, that "It's no longer my bill...Unfortunately, the committee that made this change heard from Microsoft. They heard that voice."

So with Holt himself publicly disavowing elements of the bill, nonetheless he continues to move forward with it, even if he has to lie about in order to do so, as The BRAD BLOG reported several weeks ago.

But Holt is not the only one apparently willing to deceive and/or mislead voters about this crucial bill. As mentioned, with the legislation perhaps finally coming up for a vote on the House floor, MoveOn.org, which had been a strong supporter of the bill in its previous versions, has again put out a very deceptive mailing to members over the weekend. The mailer portends to ask members if the Democratic-advocacy organization should support the legislation in its current form. Unfortunately, the mailing misframes the legislation, as Holt would like it, by referring to it as a "paper ballots bill," even though HR 811 doesn't actually mandate paper ballots, but rather uncounted paper trails only.

New York Election Integrity advocate Teresa Hommel of WheresThePaper.org, filed a smart rebuttal to MoveOn's deceptive mailing and urged readers, as we have in the past, to encourage their Congress Members to vote against this bill, unless it's changed to include a ban on DRE voting systems.

Hommel provides these sample letters to include when you contact your Congress members:

Sample Letters (your choice of four! Number 4 is getting good response!):

Flyer to fax with your letter:

Hommel's point-by-point rebuttal to MoveOn's unfortunate mailer follows in full below. We've asked MoveOn's point man on this legislation, Noah Winer, for a response to this rebuttal and will update this article appropriately if we should hear back from him. Hommel's responses to MoveOn's letter are interspersed in italics...

Dear MoveOn member,

With time running out to secure our voting machines before the 2008 election, Democratic leaders have negotiated a compromise version of Rep. Rush Holt's paper ballots bill, H.R. 811.

LIE—HR811 is not a “paper ballots” bill, it merely uses the term “paper ballot” as the new name for “paper trail.” What’s the difference? A tiny percentage of paper trails will be “re-counted” many days after the election and the announcement of the winner.

It's not ideal, but we need to decide if we'll support it anyway. On the one hand, the compromise is imperfect. On the other, it's our only chance to make significant national progress before the 2008 election.

LIE—The real question is: Is it “progress” to continue to use electronic voting machines after all the scandals and all we know about them? Or is it business and profits as usual?

*Read more about the compromise below, then let us know if you think MoveOn should support the current version of the Holt bill:

LIE—Who compromised? The lobbyists who determined the current content of this bill were primarily Microsoft and the voting machine vendors. Grassroots citizens were shut out of the process of revision this year after we worked in 2003-2006 to gather sponsors for the bill’s previous versions.

Yes, we should support the bill.

No, we should not support the bill.

Not sure if we should support the bill.

The Holt paper ballots bill has met with strong concern from many disability rights groups because electronic voting machines offered many people with disabilities their first opportunity ever to vote independently. Some technology does exist to make paper ballots accessible, but not all disability groups feel it's adequate.

LIE—Grassroots disability rights activists who are not funded who have tried the accessible paper ballot marking devices typically prefer them. The California Top-to-Bottom Review found that no DREs in their state were accessible. Please follow the money when you look at who is supporting DREs, regardless whether their arguments concern accessibility or any other reason.

The compromise Holt bill requires all electronic voting machines to include paper trails by 2008, but it allows the use of cash register-style printers that are not great for reliable voter-verification. Some counties will also be allowed to buy new electronic voting machines.

TRUTH—Paper trails are not as reliable as voter-marked paper ballots to record the voters' true intent, and are worthless to determine election outcomes, since it is very rare for election outcomes to be changed regardless of what happens after election night.

By 2012, the bill would ban these more error-prone paper trails and require durable paper ballots instead. The bill would not ban electronic voting machines altogether, but it would make the durable paper ballots the vote of record and would require manual audits to ensure accurate counts.

LIE—The “durable paper ballots” referred to here are paper trails printed on better paper. They still won’t be counted for 90-97% of election tallies. The bill would not ban electronic voting machines at all. The “vote of record” is only for 3-10% RECOUNTS.

The compromise bill is supported by Common Cause, the Brennan Center for Justice, and People for the American Way---some of the leading groups we've worked with for years to secure voting machines. There are other groups that have long opposed the Holt bill because it doesn't ban electronic voting machines.

LIE—Common Cause, the Brennan Center for Justice, and PFAW worked AGAINST paper trails and then paper ballots for years on the basis that paper could not be made accessible to the disabled. These organizations have apparently never questioned why vendors refused to make paper accessible. Meanwhile thousands of grassroots activists pointed out to these organizations that a voting machine with invisible electronic ballots and no way to be audited was an obvious scam. Teresa Hommel of WheresThePaper.org taught computer programming to blind students 1979-1982, and these students handled paper as well as any other students. In the early 1990s Ms. Hommel taught computer programming to professional programmers and engineers, including some who were blind, deaf, or wheelchair-users. These professionals were competitive in their work and had no difficulty in handling paper.

MoveOn is a member-directed organization, so we have to make this tough call together. *Should MoveOn support the latest version of the Holt bill?*

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