E-voting skeptics rally for paper

With the next presidential election less than five months away, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) led a rally today at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., to heighten the sense of urgency for e-voting paper-trail legislation.

Joined by other legislators and representatives from several activist groups including Common Cause, Rock The Vote and Democracy For America, Holt urged passage of his Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act. Despite having attracted more than 140 co-sponsors, the bill remains locked up in the House Administration Committee, chaired by Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio.).

"I don't doubt that if this [legislation] came out to see the light of day, and members of Congress heard the concern and the outrage [that people have], this legislation would move and it would become law," Holt said, flanked by dozens of supporters holding signs urging ballot verification.

The controversial proposal would create a physical record of votes cast on touch-screen machines, a trail Holt contends is necessary for officials at voting precincts to conduct a meaningful recount of votes.

Officials from companies that make the machines have argued that they are accurate and secure, but some polling locations have experienced problems in recent elections. In San Diego County, Calif., some machines malfunctioned and forced some polls to open late, while early voters were turned away. Florida officials are trying to deal with machines that have unreliable self-auditing functions.

Such "glaring errors" are troublesome, Holt said, but "perhaps more troubling are the places where there may have been some irregularities, but nobody is quite sure."

Time is running out for this year, Holt said. "Unless we act very soon, we will not have in place for this fall's election the degree of trust that every voter deserves."

Holt did not identify Ney by name as the reason the bill remains in committee, but Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) did.

Ney, she pointed out, led the effort to rename French fries "Freedom fries" at the Capitol, which she considered petty compared to the integrity of the election process.

"He has the power to move this forward," she said.

Ney was one of the original sponsors of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which Holt's legislation would amend. In April, he and the three other principal authors of the act sent a letter to members of Congress to oppose Holt's bill.

Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, also chided Congress for not acting faster.

"When there was an issue of a wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, they got right on it," she said.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) criticized Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President Bush's brother, for failing to take appropriate safeguards in the 15 Florida counties that will use touch-screen machines this fall.

"We have the potential for chaos in Florida in 2004 that dwarfs what happened in 2000, and Gov. Jeb Bush refuses to do anything," Wexler said. Jeb Bush "says these machines are infallible and will not make mistakes. The last time we heard that was before the Titanic set sail."


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