Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
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By Warren Stewart, Director of Legislative Issues and Policy
September 19, 2005
Don't Let Congress Use the Carter-Baker Report to Make Vote Verification Meaningless
The Report of the Commission on Federal
Election Reform, published this morning and available for download here
is a significant tome at over 100 pages, and its 87 recommendations
cover a wide range of issues of concern to election activists. The
section dealing with voting technology is of particular interest to
those concerned about the accuracy and security of elections in that it
calls for a voter verifiable paper trail on all voting machines.
Commission’s report very correctly recognizes the need to ensure voter
confidence in the election process through a verification process.
However, the report specifically recommends that the status of the
voter verified record should be left to the states. This is
unacceptable. It is fundamental to the integrity of the democratic
process that it is the voters and not the machines that ultimately
confirm the accuracy of their votes.
The record verified by the
voter is the only physical record that voter has confirmed and should
be recognized as such. It should not be offered to voters as a placebo
to ensure their confidence if it does not actually provide reason for
that confidence. It is crucial for a transparent election process is a
record of each vote that has been verified by the voters themselves. It
must be human readable, it must be genuinely permanent and preserved in
the manner that all election materials are preserved, and it must be
used to confirm the accuracy of machine counts, whether those counts
come from DREs or optical scanners. When inconsistencies between hand
counts of paper records and machine-tabulated records are uncovered in
an audit or recount, the totals of the voter verified records must be
considered the true and correct record of the voter’s vote.
And mandatory random audits are critically important. While the
Commission’s report recommends audits to verify the accuracy of voting
systems, it is unclear about the mechanism through which such audits
shall be conducted and does not specify the need for hand counts.
Meaningful audits require hand counts – it is not possible to confirm
the accuracy of machine counts with more machine counts. Publicly
observed hand counts are the only means to achieve complete certainty
of the vote totals and should be required in all audits and recounts.
course there is a bill introduced in Congress that would do all this.
It has over 150 co-sponsors and has generated widespread constituent
support across the country. The voter verification language in this
bill was carefully crafted and benefited from the input of computer
scientists, disability organizations, and election reform advocates.
This bill deals comprehensively with the broad-based and legitimate
concerns about the accuracy of vote casting and counting on electronic
voting systems by mandating random manual audits to verify the accuracy
of electronic data and prohibit the use of undisclosed software, the
use of wireless communications devices, and the connection of voting
systems to the Internet. The bill, introduced by Rep. Rush Holt as HR
550, deserves to be passed as written and passed quickly, in time to
affect the 2006 elections.
The Commission has identified the
importance of a voter verified paper record, requirement, audits, and
the prohibition of undisclosed voting system software to ensuring
confidence in the election process. We urgently need Federal
legislation establishing that it is the voters, rather than a secret
and non-transparent software code that ultimately confirm the accuracy
of their votes. Congress must not be allowed to use the Commission’s
report as justification for weakening the language of HR 550. The bill
should be passed as written and a companion bill should be introduced
and passed in the Senate at once.
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