Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced emergency legislation to amend the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) this afternoon to offer funding to states and counties who make 'contingency paper ballots' available to voters to be used at the voter's option instead of electronic voting systems.
The so-called contingency paper ballots are intended to be counted as normal ballots, as opposed to Provisional Ballots which must be vetted first to determine the integrity of the voter's registration. Provisional ballots are frequently counted only several days after Election Day, and often, not at all. The Senate legislation as filed, however, does not spell out the intended difference between "contingency" and "provisional" ballots specifically.
The BRAD BLOG has learned from a source currently working on similar legislation in the House, said to be filed there shortly, that the House version will include such specific language if possible to ensure such contingency ballots are counted as normal ballots on Election Night. Several Capitol Hill sources have confirmed that such legislation is currently in the works. We hope to have more details on the House version later today.
The inclusion of Dodd as a co-sponsor on the Senate legislation is no small coup, as he was one of the original co-sponsors of the HAVA legislation of 2002 which this bill would amend. Until now, he and the other bi-partisan co-sponsors of that original legislation have been reluctant to open HAVA to amendment.
The legislation, filed just after 4pm ET this afternoon, would refund state and county voting jurisdictions that offer paper ballots as an option to voters, and requires such jurisdictions post "in a conspicuous manner at the polling place, a notice stating that contingency paper ballots are available at the polling place and that a voter may request to use such a ballot at the voter's discretion."
Election integrity advocacy groups and citizens alike have been rallying members of both the U.S. House and Senate to pass such legislation since The BRAD BLOG initially called for what we had called, the "LET AMERICA VOTE ACT" last Tuesday. The act we called for would mandate emergency paper ballots at all polling places this November in light of thousands of voters having been sent away without having been able to cast a vote in primary after primary election so far this year when new electronic voting machines either malfunctioned or were otherwise unavailable.
The short Boxer/Dodd bill does not mandate the use of such ballots, but rather offers federal payment to local jurisdictions that choose to make such 'contingency paper ballots' available at either the voter's request or in the event of machine malfunction.
The bill is now being referred to informally as the "Confidence in Vote Act of 2006". It's a simple bill, three pages long in total, and is posted in full at the bottom this article. The final version of the bill to be filed momentarily (it may have already been) may be downloaded here in PDF format.
The bill introduced today is notable in no small part in that it's co-sponsored by Dodd --- one of the original co-sponsors of HAVA along with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the Senate and Reps. Bob Ney (R-OH) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in the House. HAVA was the bill which had set in motion the nationwide implementation of electronic voting systems paid for by the federal government. That bill gave states and counties some $3 billion dollars for voting systems "upgrades" around the country, and has led to a panoply of problems at polls, criticism from computer scientists, security experts and non-partisan election integrity organizations.
Dodd, and the other bi-partisan co-sponsors of HAVA, including the now-disgraced lead author Ney (R-OH), have been reluctant up until now to modify the legislation in any way, despite repeated calls from Election Integrity advocates, and a host of bills filed in both the House and Senate which have not been allowed to move forward.
The BRAD BLOG has learned that Boxer and Dodd chose to make the use of "contingency paper ballots" an option to states, rather than a mandate, in hopes that it would make the bill less contentious and easier to pass in the few days left in this legislative session before the election recess.
Both touch-screen DRE's and paper based optical scan systems have spectacularly failed across the country so far this year as well, and contingency plans have been called from both Republicans and Democrats alike to have such contingency plans in place at local jurisdictions should such machines continue to fail this November.
The downside to offering these paper ballots as an option, instead of a mandate, is that some states --- such as Florida --- have provisions in place making it essentially illegal for elections directors to offer such paper ballots at the polling place. For those states, it may well be that only a federal mandate would do the job of ensuring that voters would be able to vote come hell or highwater this November.
The legendary Leon County, FL Election Director Ion Sancho had previously expressed hopes that such a bill would make it "illegal to send a properly registered voter away from the polls without allowing them to cast a vote."
The latest state to have had machine problems in their primary election, resulting in voters being turned away from the polls, or being given Provisional Ballots (which are frequently not counted at all after Election Day) was Maryland. The Republican Governor of Maryland, Bob Ehrlich, called for scrapping the state's Diebold paperless touch-screen voting systems after their September 12th primary, calling on the state to impliment Emergency Paper Balloting this November. Incidents similar to the now-infamous "Maryland Meltdown" have been occuring across the country all year in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Arkansas, West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and many others.
The Boxer/Dodd legislation cites a recent call from former Republican Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Democratic Governor Richard Celeste to have such "backup and contingency plans that anticipate a wide range of possible failures in their electronic voting systems" this November.
With just 4, or so, legislative days left in this Congress before they break for their Election Recess, it'll be no easy feat to see the bill passed by both the House and Senate before they leave. But given the stakes, and the bi-partisan call across the country for such a measure, we hope the Congress can act with the speed appropriate for a bill so important to, at least, helping to mitigate the train wreck that our democracy may be headed for this November 7th.
The BRAD BLOG would urge you to contact your Congress Members to demand they support this legislation immediately. You can send a message to your Congress Members here asking them to pass this legislation now!
You may otherwise contact local media to write in support of it, or ask to ask them to cover it, via this link.
UPDATE 6:17pm PT: New York Times coverage now linked here...
UPDATE 11:12pm PT: Late, final edition of the Times now lists Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) as a co-sponsor of the legislation as well!
The complete text of the Boxer/Dodd legislation as filed this afternoon, follows in full...