Originally Published: 5/9/2007
THE HOLT BILL
By The Issue Wonk
The Holt Bill, H.R. 811, entitled the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, (see text) was introduced by Representative Rush Holt (D, NJ) to “amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require a voter-verified permanent paper ballot.” At this time it has almost 200 co-sponsors (see list). It has been referred to the House Administration Committee and the House Committee on Elections for review.
H.R. 811 does several things.1
- It requires a voter-verified paper ballot for each vote, which becomes the “ballot of record in the event of any recount or audit.”
- It requires routine random audits of the paper ballots by a hand count.
- It allows for inspection of voting system software.
- It requires election workers to document a “secure chain of custody” for voting systems.
- It also prohibits conflicts of interest involving vendors.
- It authorizes federal funding to help the states meet the requirements.
It also “bans wireless communications to reduce the possibility of some types of hacking; it would prevent Diebold, Sequoia, and other voting machine companies from using secret software on the voting machines.”2 However, according to Voters Unite, the primary problem with the bill is that it “allows the continued use of Direct Record Electronic (DRE), or ‘touch screen’ voting machines, as long as they print out a copy of the electronic record of your vote for you to approve (called a ‘voter-verified paper audit trail’ or ‘VVPAT’).” Voters Unite is calling for a complete ban on DREs.2
Voters Unite lists many problems with DREs, among them are:2
- DREs cause long lines, forcing voters to leave without casting a vote if too few machines are provided.
- DREs “disrupt the electoral process” as “paper trails” do not provide an actual ballot for inspection.
- DREs can still change a voters selection “from one candidate to the opponent, with no way for the voter to know if the right candidate was ultimately recorded inside the computer’s memory.”
- DREs “confuse and cause anxiety for voters who aren’t computer-savvy, many of them elderly.”
- DREs “confuse pollworkers, who often have to call on technicians for help during the election, causing further delays for voters.”
While Voters Unite provides quite a laundry list of problems, I would like to point out what I believe to be the problem with DREs. We don’t know what they are doing.
The Holt bill would mandate that the software is accessible; that is, someone can look at it and make sure it hasn’t been tampered with to switch votes from one candidate to another. Currently the software is proprietary and vendors will not release the code. But, what is the cost to hire someone to go through millions of lines of code on each individual machine throughout the country to make sure that the software isn’t doing something it shouldn’t? Is this, no matter the cost, even feasible? And, without such verification, there still is no confidence in the election process.
The Holt Bill requires a “paper trail,” not a “paper ballot.” After casting your vote you’d get a print-out telling you what you voted for. However, what guarantee is there that the vote you cast, the vote recorded on the paper, is the vote recorded on the machine’s memory? There is none. And, while the Holt bill allows for re-counts, you must remember that there must be a reason for a re-count. If enough votes are shifted, the margin may be so large as to not incite a demand for a re-count. So, who would know of the shifts? Only the machine and its software. This does not inspire confidence in the election process.
Therefore, The Issue Wonk agrees with Voters Unite. The Holt Bill must be amended to ban DREs and require true paper ballots. Call your legislators.
1 Representative Rush Holt website.
2 Voters Unite. “Election Reform Bill (Rush Holt’s HR 811) Urgently Needs Reform.
© The Issue Wonk, 2007