Holt renews call for e-voting law

As the dust settles from Election Day earlier this month, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) is urging Congress to pass his Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, a bill that would, among other things, require electronic voting systems to generate a paper record for audits and recounts.

The electronic systems used in the latest election malfunctioned in some jurisdictions, throwing the counts for some vote tallies into doubt. At least one House race in Florida remains undecided because machines made by ES&S did not record votes for 18,000 voters in a race in which only about 400 votes separate the two candidates.

According to published accounts, the 18,000 votes not recorded in Sarasota County, Fla., represent about a 13 percent undervote rate. Normally, undervotes mean voters did not cast a ballot in the race, but only about 2.5 percent of the voters who voted via absentee ballot chose not to vote in the race between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vernon Buchanan. Many voters had complained to elections officials that they had trouble getting their votes to record on the machines, according to reports. Officials are investigating.

"Until we require that these systems produce a voter-verified paper audit trail, voters will continue to doubt the outcomes of elections involving these machines, because the results will be unauditable," Holt said in a statement today.

The voter-verified paper trail is not, as some believe, a receipt that voters take home. It is a paper record that voters can review to certify that it properly reflects their votes. Then elections officials securely store the paper records and can use them to conduct a recount or to audit some of the machines to spot-check their accuracy.

"The inaccuracy of electronic touch-screen voting machines poses a direct threat to the integrity of our electoral system and to our nation's democracy," said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), a supporter of Holt's bill. "Without the means to fully guarantee that every vote is counted as fairly and accurately as possible, the authenticity of our recorded vote will always be uncertain and open to electoral and legal challenges."

"Without a voter-verified paper audit trail, no satisfactory resolution is possible," Holt said. "One side or the other will always doubt the result."

He also criticized supporters of paperless e-voting, who often attribute voting machine problems to voters who don't use them correctly. "Election officials and the vendors can't have it both ways," he said. "They can't claim that the machines make voting easier and at the same time claim the public is too stupid to use the machines properly. There is no excuse for building a machine whose results cannot be checked."

If passed, the bill would, among other things:

  • Require that voters have the opportunity to verify the accuracy of an archival copy of their recorded votes.
  • Require that all voting systems produce a voter-verified paper record for use in manual audits, and provide as much as $150 million to help states meet the cost.
  • Ban the use of undisclosed software and all wireless and concealed communications devices in voting systems, and forbid the connection of any voting machine component to the Internet.
  • Require random, unannounced, hand-count audits of the voter-verified paper records in 2 percent of all precincts, including at least one precinct per county, with authorization to provide the funding necessary to cover the cost.

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