This article appeared in National Journal Tech Daily and is reposted here with permission of the author.
The House Democrat behind a stalled election overhaul bill is drafting an alternative proposal aimed at preventing chaos from occurring at the polls next year.
Rush Holt of New Jersey is prepared to offer an "opt in" measure to give states an opportunity to upgrade their e-voting systems in time for the presidential election. The details of the plan are still being finalized.
Holt is the author of a bill, H.R. 811, that would mandate the nationwide adoption of e-voting machines that produce paper trails. He has introduced similar bills multiple times, none of which have reached the House floor.
The House Administration Committee approved the current legislation in the spring. But the bill has been stalled as supporters work to settle disputes about funding and whether to force the adoption of machines that are less accessible for disabled voters.
Holt's new proposal would authorize federal reimbursement for states that decide they want to offer paper-based options to voters next fall, as well as conduct audits. His staff discussed the proposal with Democratic leaders this month, and he said in a recent telephone interview that he intends to formally introduce it soon.
According to Holt, there is still enough time for states to have new, secure systems in place before next November. He said there are plenty of examples of states that have needed less than a year to complete comprehensive upgrades.
"States can have this up and running in a matter of months," he said.
More than 200 of Holt's colleagues have sponsored H.R. 811. The Rules Committee considered the proposal briefly in September, but there has been no effort to bring it to the floor since then. "I think it would pass on the floor if it were given a vote," Holt said.
Despite the relative silence on Capitol Hill during the past several months, some states have remained active on the e-voting front. The Election Assistance Commission also is making progress on the next iteration of nonbinding, nationwide guidelines for voting systems.
Florida, which suffered electoral meltdowns in 2000 and 2006, is moving forward with a plan to abandon touch-screen voting machines altogether. A U.S. House election conducted in Florida's 13th District last year was challenged in court and before Congress by a Democratic candidate who blamed her loss on e-voting glitches.
An investigation by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, meanwhile, has grabbed nationwide headlines during the past six months for identifying major security flaws in common e-voting platforms.
Holt said he has not given up on H.R. 811, but he is worried that Congress will not move fast enough to prevent controversies in future elections that he claims may be completely avoidable. "I must say I'm a little surprised and disappointed by the shortness of our memory," he said.
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