Congressman, Author of Leading U.S. House Election Reform Bill, Replies in BRAD BLOG Comments to Our Article Critical of His Quoted Statement Suggesting Touch-Screen Systems Should Not Be Replaced Due to Cost Factors...
By Brad Friedman on 12/8/2006, 2:02pm PT  

In a posted comment here at The BRAD BLOG, Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) has responded to an article we filed earlier this week in which we expressed concern about a recently quoted comment of his. Our original piece discussed his statement at an Election Reform symposium at Rutgers University, as quoted on Tuesday in by New Jersey's Herald News, about the financial cost of moving away from Electronic Voting Machines in light of recent purchases made by jurisdictions across the country.

The Congressman's comments are, indeed, quite notable as we read them, and they deserve to be highlighted here --- as the piece from last Tuesday has now scrolled far down the main page and his reply posted today would otherwise likely go unnoticed by many...

As we reported originally, an audience member at the Rutgers panel discussion was quoted as saying in regard to electronic voting, "We ought to look at doing away with the machines and have paper-only balloting."

Holt, the author and lead sponsor of HR550 [PDF] --- an Election Reform bill in the U.S. House, which enjoys a great deal of bipartisan support and mandates a number of much-needed reforms --- was on the panel and was quoted as follows by the NJ paper:

Holt said that now was "not a time to switch to paper balloting" due to the millions of dollars counties had already spent on electronic voting systems.

We responded in turn that we found Holt's argument, as characterized by the paper --- essentially, that since millions had already been wasted on unreliable DRE (Direct Recording Election, usually touch-screen) systems, which undermine democracy whether they include a so-called "Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail" or not --- was a less than compelling reason to allow States and Counties to continue using such flawed, non-transparent systems.

In Holt's reply posted today, he responds to say that "cost is not the issue." He further states that his legislation will require "a voter-verified paper ballot."

The version of Holt's legislation, now pending in Congress, requires only "paper records" and/or "voter-verified paper audit trails." Both of which are a far cry from a paper ballot mandate.

Holt's complete response, posted today, is as follows...

The other day, Brad commented that money already spent is not an adequate reason to keep unverifiable electronic voting machines in use. Of course, unverifiable systems should not be kept in place simply because they are already bought and paid for. The point of my legislation is not to certify or decertify specific designs of voting systems, but to require that voters use systems that are verifiable, or as I prefer to say, auditable. (In New Jersey, all voting machines will be rendered independently auditable by 2008 in accordance with state law modeled on H.R. 550.) Auditability should be mandated, period. Cost is not the issue.

I am proud of the fact that I have been trying for years to require voter-verified paper ballots, and I will continue to work to make them a federal requirement. The fact that my legislation does not outlaw the use of electronic machines does not mean that I am against paper-ballot-based voting or that I am in favor of touch-screen machines. In fact, my legislation intentionally avoids dictating technology except for requiring a voter-verified paper ballot. If states and localities choose paper-ballot-based voting, and they do so while still protecting accessibility and privacy for disabled voters, then they have my support.

As HR550 is currently being re-written for re-introduction in the new Congress --- and in fact, we've been in touch with Holt's office on a number of occasions to discuss our concerns, the paper "ballot" language being among the most important --- we'd be delighted that Holt's comments, as posted above, seem to be a clear signal that he plans to reintroduce his bill as requiring paper ballots instead of "records" or "trails" in its new iteration.