A week later, the 'paper of record' fails to correct egregious 'paper ballots' error in endorsement editorial
Democratic Congressman's own website touts endorsement, repeats same fictitious information about bill...
By Brad Friedman on 7/1/2009, 1:19pm PT  

It was a "glaring inaccuracy," according to VotersUnite.org's Ellen Theisen last week.

Yet, even though it's been more than a full week since the New York Times ran an editorial endorsing Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ)'s new election reform bill (H.R. 2894), in which they included a huge factual error about the legislation, they have failed to issue a correction. Neither have they even bothered to respond to letters to the editor detailing the error, sent to them when we first pointed out the problem last week.

While several aspects of their editorial misled readers about the bill, as we detailed in our original article, one assertion made by the "paper of record" was just out and out incorrect, when they erroneously asserted the following:

Mr. Holt's bill would require paper ballots to be used for every vote cast in November 2010.

On that point, the Times is just plain wrong. Any reading of the bill would quickly reveal as much. Theisen would later call it a "complete misrepresentation."

While the bill, as currently written, would require Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting machines to print "paper trails" (otherwise known as "voter verifiable paper audit trails" or "VVPAT") by 2010, it decidely does not "require a paper ballot to be used for every vote cast in November 2010." Paper ballots for every voter will not be required by Holt's bill, as it's currently written, and as it's been introduced in the House, until 2014. That's two federal elections away, including one Presidential election. The Times is off by four years in their assertion.

That the NYTimes --- again, known as the "paper of record" for a reason --- would get something as important as that blatantly wrong in an editorial endorsing such a sweeping piece of legislation, is rather incredible in the first place. That they've not bothered to issue a correction, or even respond to a letter pointing out the error, is mind-boggling.

But their appears at least one reason --- though hardly an excuse --- that the Times might have gotten it so wrong. Congressman Holt makes the same wholly erroneous assertion about his own bill on his own Congressional webpage...

One might think that Holt himself would have notified the Times about such an egregious error, particularly since his office and his supporters have been touting the Times endorsement. Apparently they haven't. (Two aides failed to respond to request for comment on this article, though in both cases we received auto-reply emails stating they were gone from the office until after the 4th of July Congressional recess.) But what's worse is Holt's own website making the same incorrect assertion as seen in the Times editorial!

In a bullet point list, described as a "Bill Summary," Holt's web page touting the bill, asserts that it:

• Requires a voter-marked or ballot-marking-device paper ballot be produced for every vote cast in time for the November 2010 elections.

That first bullet point is belied by the very next one, which says the legislation [emphasis added]:

• Provides that printer-equipped electronic voting systems used in 2008 elections can be used after 2010 but are to be replaced with paper ballots before the first federal election in 2014.

So in admitting that jurisdictions will not have to offer paper ballots to voters until "the first federal election in 2014," it would appear that his office is simply trying to mislead voters about the legislation.

All of this is no small point. DREs with "paper trails" are no more reliable, or verifiable, than DREs without "paper trail" printers. Only voter-marked paper ballots can be known to reflect the voters' verified intent (presuming chain of custody is kept securely). Holt knows this, which is why his legislation calls for a paper ballot for every voter by 2014.

"They're not correct. That is a complete misrepresentation of the bill," Ellen Theisen of VotersUnite.org, a non-partisan election watchdog organization told us during a segment of the nationally syndicated Mike Malloy Show when we were guest hosting last week and asked her about the Times' editorial. We hadn't yet realized, at the time, that Holt's own office had been publicizing the same misrepresentation of his bill.

She pointed out the Times' error as a "glaring inaccuracy" in her "Daily Voting News" newsletter last week, "hoping that they would pick up on the fact that they misrepresented the bill," as she explained on the radio. "There could be a lot of people out there thinking 'Yay! We'll have all paper ballots by 2010!' Not realizing [that's] not so," she told us. VotersUnite.org had previously endorsed this year's version of the bill, before withdrawing their endorsement after a last-minute change to a portion of the bill dealing with voting systems for disabled voters.

  • Clip from interview with Theisen on this point from the Malloy Show, 6/26/09, [appx. 1.5 mins]...

    [The entire interview with Theisen, discussing other aspects of the Holt bill, and related election matters, can be heard here, in the 'HOUR 1' archive, beginning at the :22 minute mark]

The BRAD BLOG has gone out of our way to be incredibly fair in our continuing analysis of Holt's bill as it's changed over the years. By way of full disclosure, we were even asked to help with several drafts of the 2007 version of the bill before its introduction, even though we could not endorse that version of the bill due to its many failures, a fair number of them improved in the latest version. Our most recent analysis of this year's version, filed just before it was introduced this year, notes both the good and bad it offers.

That Holt's office still seems to feel it necessary to deceive the public is disturbing, at best. Regrettably, its not the first time they've employed such tactics.

That the New York Times appears to have been lazy enough to work from Holt's talking points, rather than bothering to read the actual bill itself before endorsing it on its pages, represents our corporate media at its absolutely most shameful. Failing to issue a correction, even after the problem has been pointed out to them, is simply beyond the pale.

The version of Holt's "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2009" (HR 2894) as recently introduced in the U.S. House, can be read here.

Contact page for Rep. Rush Holt

UPDATE 7/15/09: It's now been nearly a month since the Times' published its inaccurate editorial endorsement, and yet they have still failed to publish a correction. Rep. Holt, however, has slightly amended his website in response to the concerns expressed above. Details now here...

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