Calls for a Return to Paper Ballots During Commemorative MLK, Jr., Keynote Address in Santa Cruz!
California Congresswoman is First of Bill's 192 Co-Sponsors to Pull Support Amid Heavy Criticism of Legislation by Election Integrity Advocates...
By Emily Levy on 2/21/2007, 2:31pm PT  

Guest Blogged by Emily Levy of VelvetRevolution.us with additional reporting by Brad Friedman

During a question and answer period after a speech at a Black History Month event last night sponsored by the University of California Santa Cruz, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) announced that she plans to withdraw her co-sponsorship of Rep. Rush Holt's Election Reform Legislation, (HR 811).

Citing the bill's failure to require paper ballots, allowing for uncounted "paper trails" instead, Waters replied to a question of mine that she would be "glad to withdraw [her] name from the bill" when she returns to Washington on Tuesday in the wake of recent conversations she's had in California with Election Integrity advocates. The announcement drew an enthusiastic round of applause from those in attendance at Tuesday night's 23rd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Convocation at UCSC which was keynoted by Waters.

Waters would be the first of the bill's current 192 House co-sponsors to withdraw her support. (The full list of current co-sponsors is available here.) Given her leadership on civil rights and election-related issues over the years, Waters's move could be significant in the current debate which has seen Democrats and a number of their public-advocacy group supporters use the issue of civil rights, ironically enough, to support the continued use of DRE/touch-screen systems as allowed by the Holt legislation.

As The BRAD BLOG reported yesterday, "language minority" activists have contended that touch-screen systems are better able to serve voters whose first language is not English. That, despite any empirical evidence in support of the notion.

The Holt bill had received early support from a number of Democratic public-advocacy groups such as PFAW, MoveOn, Common Cause, and others, though the controversial bill has gone on to draw criticism, since it's filing, from Election Integrity advocates here at The BRAD BLOG and elsewhere for its failure to fully ban disenfranchising DRE/touch-screen voting systems and several other notable concerns.

Waters began her speech Tuesday Night by discussing the dire condition of our election system, asking, "What would Dr. Martin Luther King say" about the 2000 election in Florida, about the purging of supposed felons from voter rolls, about proposed voter ID cards, intimidation at the polls in Florida and Ohio, voting machines without "paper trails," and related issues. She did not discuss HR 811 during the course of her main address.

In the brief question and answer period following her speech, I asked Waters if she was aware that the Election Integrity movement --- the folks who have investigated, exposed, and challenged the horrors of electronic voting --- strongly opposed Holt's legislation.

"What would it take," I asked, "for you to withdraw your support?" ...

"It takes me getting to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning," she replied before detailing her reasons for the move. (The transcript of her complete response to my question is posted at the end of this article.)

Waters explained that she had spoken to Ed Asner's wife [activist Cindy Asner] over the weekend and had come to understand that "paper trails" --- which she had previously focused on --- would not solve the problems of electronic voting.

"I think you are absolutely correct," Waters said about my expressed concerns about HR 811. The audience applauded her declaration that she would be "glad to withdraw" her sponsorship of the bill because, she said, she believes "we have got to take a strong stand now against all the machines and go for the paper ballot."

While originally focusing on "paper trails" as the solution to the nation's storied electoral system woes, Waters explained that she "forgot that the commission that we put together" to oversee these issues previously was overseen by George W. Bush.

"The president has the most appointments," she said in reference to commissioners on the much-criticized-of-late U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC), which was formed by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002.

"I don't know why I expected that he would actually do the work of setting standards," she added, decrying the notable lack thereof, as has been evidenced during the nearly five years since the commission began its work.

The original Bush-appointed chair to the EAC, Rev. DeForest Soaries, resigned from the commission in 2005, protesting the lack of interest from both the White House and the then-Republican Congress for real election reform.

"There are no standards," Soaries explained in an unaired network interview, portions of which The BRAD BLOG ran exclusively in August of 2006. The electoral system "in this country is ripe for stealing elections and for fraud," concluded the former commissioner.

A continuing series of recent investigative reports on the EAC by The BRAD BLOG over the last several weeks and months concerning problems at the secretive, ineffective, and politically compromised commission indicate that conditions have not improved since Soaries's departure.

Waters has been the Chair of the Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Election Reform and is a past Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She is also a national board member of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and expressed that she considers voting rights and voter access to be high priorities.

The BRAD BLOG has contacted Waters' office for an official statement on her plans, but have not yet received one. The Congresswoman is en route to New Orleans where she will be holding "field hearings" on Hurricane Katrina reconstruction under her role as chair of the Housing sub-committee of the House Financial Services Committee. We'll update this story as appropriate if we receive such a statement.

VotersUnite.org and a growing number of other Election Integrity organizations and individuals who had been supporters of the previous version of Holt's legislation in the last Congress have withheld support for the latest version, choosing instead to recommend several Essential Revisions to HR 811 in hopes of seeing it amended.

As well, more than 40 non-partisan Election Integrity organizations have issued an Open Letter to Congress demanding a paper ballot --- one that will actually be tabulated --- for every vote cast in America. You may send that Paper Ballot Campaign letter to your Congress members by clicking here.

# # #

USCS tells us that a podcast of Waters's entire speech will be made available online via their Currents Online website. The congresswoman's transcribed response to my question about what it would take for her to withdraw her sponsorship from the Holt bill follows below...

WATERS: It takes me getting to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning. And let me tell you why. I just had a long conversation with Ed Asner's wife on Sunday.
...
I did co-sponsor that bill because I was focused on having a paper trail. I was focused on having a paper trail because I really did assume for the time that we had put all of this money into the states in order for them to develop their technology and to get new machines, and I guess we had some expectations that we would have some standards, but I forgot that the commission that we put together in voter reform really is a commission where the president has the most appointments. And I don't know why I expected that he would actually do the work of setting standards so we wouldn't have all these different kinds of machines operating in different ways in the states.

But I think you are absolutely correct and this conversation took place on Sunday. And I will be talking with Holt and I'll be glad to withdraw my name from the bill because I do believe, I do believe that we have got to take a strong stand now against all the machines and go for the paper ballot. (applause)