Letter from Holt, Davis Points to Failures in Voting Machines Around the Country
Bill Has More than 150 Co-Sponsors, But Has Not Been Allowed to Come to Floor by House Leadership
By Brad Friedman on 11/18/2005, 12:26pm PT  

The original co-sponsors of legislation in the House of Representatives to require "paper records" on Electronic Voting Machines and many other security measures and improvements to the Help America Vote Act of 2002, have sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to other members citing the landmark report recently released by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the myriad security problems found after a year-long investigation into those machines.

In a letter from last Wednesday obtained by The BRAD BLOG, Congressmen Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Tom Davis (R-VA) asked colleagues to join them in support of H.R. 550, known as the "The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act".

In their letter, the congressmen point out several of the key findings in the GAO report leading off with a quote from it that reads ". . . computer programs could access these cast vote files and alter them without the system recording this action in its audit logs.” [emphasis in original]

The legislation, which currently has more than 150 bi-partisan co-sponsors, has been languishing for some time as House Leadership has kept it from coming up for debate on the House floor or committee mark-up. H.R. 550 is currently "pending" in the House Administrative Committee, according to Holt's Communications Director, Patrick G. Eddington, but it has received "no debate, mark-up or hearing" as of yet. He added, "no Committee has specifically addressed H.R. 550."

H.R. 550 was introduced in April of this year. It was a reintroduction of a predecessor bill, H.R. 2239, which was first introduced in 2003, but was similarly never debated or voted on in any House committee.

The House Administrative Committee is chaired by Ohio Republican Bob Ney who held hearings last March on "Ohio Election Irregularities" in which he called only one witness from any "Voting Rights" group. That group, the self-proclaimed "non-partisan" American Center for Voting Rights, had been formed only days before the hearing, and as reporting by BRAD BLOG has revealed, was formed by two high-level Bush/Cheney/RNC operatives. Ney is also reported to be currently under investigation by the DoJ for his involvement in the ongoing Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Amongst several other points cited in the letter from the GAO reports's findings: Ballot definitions on Electronic Voting Machines may be altered so that "the votes shown on the touch screen for one candidate would actually be recorded and counted for a different candidate."; Programming errror in a Pennsylvania county resulted in an undervote percentage of 80% in some precincts; An "unknown number of disenfranchised voters" as documented by California voting officials; Election monitors in a Florida county discovering a "flaw" in an Electronic Voting Machine ballot that allowed "ballots to be added to the canvas totals multiple times without being detected."; An Electronic Voting system in Ohio added nearly 4,000 votes for Bush in just one precinct during the '04 Presidential Election.

Though the GAO report was non-partisan, requested by the Chairmen and ranking members of three different U.S. House Committees, and was released last month after a year-long investigation along with a rare bi-partisan joint press release which lauded it, not a single wire service or mainstream American newspaper to date, that we know of, has devoted a single paragraph reporting on its release or the information contained within.

The complete text of Holt and Davis' letter to colleagues follows [emphasis in original] ...

November 16, 2005

". . . computer programs could access these cast vote files
and alter them
without the system recording this action in its audit logs."

GAO Report: ELECTIONS: Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems are Under Way, but Key Activities Need to be Completed – September 2005

Dear Colleague:

In May of 2004, the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Government Reform Committee, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Science asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the security of electronic voting systems because “[e]xperts have indicated that [the software used in electronic voting machines] has security gaps that could potentially allow unscrupulous individuals to alter the vote count, unlawfully impacting election results while leaving no paper trail or other auditable evidence”. The GAO issued its report in response to that request in September 2005. Its findings included the following:

  • “ . . . several evaluations demonstrated that election management systems did not encrypt the data files containing cast votes . . . . in some cases, other computer programs could access these cast vote files and alter them without the system recording this action in its audit logs.”

  • “Two reports documented how it might be possible to alter the ballot definition files on one model of DRE so that the votes shown on the touch screen for one candidate would actually be recorded and counted for a different candidate.”
  • “ . . . a county in Pennsylvania made a ballot programming error on its DRE system [that] contributed to many votes not being captured correctly by the voting system, evidenced by that county's undervote percentage, which reached 80 percent in some precincts.”
  • “ . . . California officials documented how a failure in a key component of their system led to polling place disruptions and an unknown number of disenfranchised voters.”
  • In a Florida County, “election monitors discovered that the system contained a flaw that allowed one DRE system's ballots to be added to the canvas totals multiple times without being detected.”
  • “ . . . a DRE system in Ohio caused the system to record approximately 3,900 votes too many for one presidential candidate in the 2004 general election.”
  • With respect to system failures noted during elections, the GAO concluded that “[w]hile each of these problems was noted in an operational environment, the root cause was not known in all cases.” In addition, it stated that “ . . . election officials in one state noted that when voting machines malfunctioned and started generating error messages during an election, state technicians were unable to diagnose and resolve the problems because the vendor's documentation provided no information about what the error messages meant, or how to fix the problems.” One independent testing authority (ITA) official stated that its “testing does not guarantee that voting systems are secure and reliable.”

    The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (H.R. 550) would amend the Help America Vote Act to protect the electoral system from those risks, in time for the general election in 2006. In addition, it would create a uniform national standard for independent auditability of election results, by mandating that the voter-verified paper record – the only record verified by the voters rather than by the machines --- be treated as the vote of record. That way, voters in every state will be confident that the results reported in every other state will be of equal verifiability and integrity.

    The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act had 50 original bipartisan cosponsors when it was introduced in February, and now it has almost 160. It has been endorsed by VerifiedVoting.org as the “gold standard” of verifiability legislation. If we do not pass this legislation, we may as well outlaw recounts in federal elections. For more information or to become a cosponsor, please contact Michelle Mulder of Representative Holt's staff at (###) ###-#### or [removed]@mail.house.gov.

    Sincerely,

    RUSH HOLT
    Member of Congress

    TOM DAVIS
    Member of Congress