For months, supporters of Rep. Rush Holt's Election Reform Bill (HR 811) - from computer scientists such as David Dill and Avi Rubin to extremely powerful advocacy groups such as People for the American Way (PFAW) and VoteTrustUSA --- have been telling critics who believe that Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) touch-screen systems are antithetical to democracy that an amendment to his bill, requiring a ban on such systems, could not be passed by Congress.
They appear to have accepted the talking point as gospel, and thus have argued that any attempt to amend the current bill (and the matching one in the Senate) is a fruitless endeavor, and we should therefore support the bill as is because something is better than nothing.
In the case of PFAW, they've actually been responsible, in no small part, from selling that line to the public.
Never mind that if the many respected Election Integrity advocates and computer scientists repeating that unsubstantiated argument actually announced they would not support any federal Election Reform legislation that failed to include such a ban --- one which most of them have said they'd support (PFAW not included) --- we might actually get such a ban added to the bill.
Nonetheless, despite my best efforts, I have yet to be able to find a single congress member who supports the bill as currently written, without such a ban, who will go on record --- or even admit off-record --- that they would vote against the Election Reform bill if it included a ban on DREs.
I have yet to be able to find one.
Anyone have a name for me? Even just one?
Equally notable, DRE systems, by their design, are against the law and in strict violation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which the Holt bill is meant to amend.
Section 301 of HAVA expressly requires that any electronic voting system "permit the voter to verify (in a private and independent manner) the votes selected by the voter on the ballot before the ballot is cast and counted." And yet, by design, electronic DRE systems allow for no such verification by the voter.
At best, a voter may verify a "paper printout" said to represent the electronic ballot, the one which is actually "cast and counted" on a DRE system --- if the DRE in question is equipped with a VVPAT printer. Of course, that's only if the voter bothers to verify it for accuracy. Unlike with a paper ballot system, "voter verified" by definition since the voters have marked the ballots themselves, it is impossible to determine whether or not such paper printouts were ever verified by the voters.
(Holt's bill requires that all DRE systems must have paper printouts, thus their oft-repeated, misleading sales line that the bill will "ban paperless electronic voting machines." Very clever, eh?)
And while the voter may or may not verify the accuracy of that DRE paper printout --- studies by electronic voting supporters, of all people, at CalTech and MIT [PDF] and elsewhere, have shown that the vast majority of voters do not --- that paper printouts are never counted on Election Night. That fact will remain true even under the current provisions of the Holt Bill.
Instead, as will be required by Holt, just a tiny 3% of those paper printouts will ever be counted by anyone or anything in most cases (some times as much as 10%), as part of an "audit" provision in the Holt bill. That audit will take place days after the media have already been given the name of the "winner" of the election as based on the results reported from the 100% voter-unverified electronic ballots as cast and counted on the DRE voting systems.
While it is strictly impossible for any human being to determine if his or her actual ballot is accurate before it is cast and counted on a DRE voting system, and strictly impossible to determine if a voter has actually verified that the paper printout supposedly representing the ballot has accurately reflected his or her intent, some say that's okay, because the 3% to 10% "audit" later on will most likely catch any discrepancies days after the election.
For those who believe it's just fine that 90% to 97% of the votes said to be represented by such paper receipts will never be tallied by anyone or anything, because a post-election audit will somehow be effective in reversing inaccuracies reported on election night, I'd remind them of Bush v. Gore, when the Bush Team went all the way to the Supreme Court to argue, successfully, that their client would be "irreparably harmed" if a count of the actual paper ballots, which actually existed in that contest, had proceeded because the media had already announced George W. Bush to be the "winner" on election night.
I'd also remind them that Christine Jennings in Sarasota is still fighting for the seat she most probably won in Florida's 13th congressional district last November. Despite having been announced the "loser" on election night, even the voting machine company's only expert placed on the stand in the state election contest admitted that were it not for problems on the touch-screen DREs, Jennings would likely have won the election she was certified as having "lost" by just 369 votes. While thousands of dollars are spent on attorneys to try and reverse the election night finding in state court and in a federal congressional challenge, the Republican Vern Buchanan continues to sit and vote in Congress.
Computer scientists have confirmed to me that "paper trails" added to those DRE voting systems in democratic-leaning Sarasota, where 18,000 electronic ballots failed to report a vote in the race, would have reflected the same inexplicable undervote rate. Nonetheless, Holt supporters point to the election and say over and over again --- without evidence --- that the bill would keep such a disaster from happening again.
With all of that in mind, it seems fair to ask for the name of just one Congress member who would vote against counting the votes actually verified by his or her constituents. Just one. Anybody?
(See the graphic at the end of this article, created by VotersUnite.org, to better understand how it is impossible for a voter to verify his or her ballot before it is cast and counted on a DRE voting system, and how DRE paper printouts serve only to offer voters a false sense of security that their votes will actually be recorded as they intended.)
Holt Bill supporters such as computer scientists and voting machine experts like professor Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins and professor David Dill of Stanford, along with Warren Stewart, policy director of one of HR 811's most ardent supporters, VoteTrustUSA, have all gone on record stating that DREs should never be used.
Rubin: "[A]fter four years of studying the issue, I now believe that a DRE with a VVPAT is not a reasonable voting system."
Dill (who has been circumspect in his public comments, but has been more direct in private emails that I reviewed as sent to others): "I would personally prefer to see optical scan machines used nationwide."
Stewart: "While this broad based movement embraces a wide range of proposals and positions, it is unified in the conclusion that the direct electronic recording of votes to computer memory is inimical to democracy."
That's just a small sampling, and only from amongst supporters of the Holt bill.
And yet, with those rather direct pronouncements against the use of DREs, all of those quoted above have been quoted, time and again, as saying that while they'd rather not see DREs in use, an amendment to require a paper ballot --- one that is actually tabulated after being verified and cast by the voter --- could not be passed by Congress.
Fair enough. But where is the evidence for such a claim?
I have yet to hear the name of even ONE congress person who would vote against verified ballots.
The line, originally propagated by Holt's office and widely echoed by the well-financed pro-Holt lobbying efforts by People for the American Way (PFAW) and elsewhere, suggests that a DRE ban could not succeed. The line has subsequently been passed on as accepted gospel by folks like Dill and Rubin and Stewart and the majority of the Holt-supporting minions.
Never mind that such a ban has already been passed by the new Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, and the Republican state House and Senate down there, Holt supporters at the federal level (mostly Democrats and their public-advocacy supporters) have taken it for granted that they could not pass a similar ban.
And yet, in all the months I've been trying, I've been unable to come up with a single name of a single congressional Holt supporter (the bill currently has 216 co-sponsors) who has said they would not vote for the bill if it included such a ban.
With all of those Congressional supporters, I'm sure there must be some who would not vote for the bill if it included such a ban, yet I've been unable able to identify any of them, so far, and none of Holt's most ardent supporters have been able to give me a single name.
If they did, of course, we might be able to find out why any such congress member would be opposed to banning such dangerous devices almost universally agreed to be "inimical to democracy," as Stewart testified to before Congress, along with Rubin. Especially since perfectly acceptable, wholly verifiable, and far less dangerous alternatives exist, as needed, for use by blind or disabled voters. Such voters may require such assistive devices to help them cast their votes "in a private and independent manner" as required by HAVA, and the good news is that they do not need a dangerous DRE system to do it!
"No exception needed or wanted for voters with disabilities," said Paul Edwards, former President of the American Council of the Blind, on behalf of the Florida Council of the Blind, in a recent statement headlined "All Voters Deserve Paper Ballots - Voters With Disabilities Must Not Be Left Behind," used to announce the strategic partnership between FCB and the Florida Voting Coalition.
"The very purpose of HAVA Section 301 was to provide an equal opportunity to voters with disabilities. 'Equal' doesn't only apply to the ability to cast a private and independent ballot...it also applies to the ability to cast a secure ballot," Edwards said.
"Our message today is, NO THANK YOU," the blind voters advocate added in the announcement, "We don't want [DREs] and should not be forced to use them. Paperless electronic DRE voting systems are fit for no one."
Dan McCrea, co-founder of the Florida Voting Coalition, explains in the same statement that, "For years proponents of paperless electronic DRE voting systems have claimed that their systems are the only solution for voters with disabilities."
"That’s just not true," he says. "Non-tabulating ballot marking devices provide superior...facilities to allow voters with disabilities to cast a private and independent vote, and they are HAVA compliant. But unlike failed DRE systems, they allow all voters to vote on one uniform, paper-ballot-based, secure voting system."
Their announcement, ironically enough, is posted on the site run by Warren Stewart's VoteTrustUSA, the number #1 Holt Bill supporting group in the Election Integrity community.
One such particularly pernicious example is found in the deceptive and misleading "Frequently Asked Questions" page as posted at Holt's congressional Web page, and as authored by his lead HR811 legislative aide, Michelle Mulder. Note the deceptive bait-and-switch tactic used in the following, as she conflates non-verifiable DRE systems with non-tabulating, verifiable electronic ballot marking devices:
For now, we'll set aside the above strawman distraction of "two classes of ballots," since they already exist, by definition, in a system which uses DREs at the polling place, along with paper-based optical-scan absentee ballots in the same election. Or even DREs and op-scan systems used side-by-side in many precincts on election day as many jurisdictions already do in a practice perfectly allowable both now and even under Holt. Further, the latest version of Holt's bill, recently reported out of committee to the House floor, further legislates in favor of "two classes of ballots," by allowing citizens to request paper ballots if they wish, instead of being forced to use a DRE system (unfortunately, the legislation allows those ballots to be ghettoized, as a separate class of ballot, to be counted days after the election when the DREs have already been used to establish a "winner).
What is most notable, for the purposes of this article, about the above paragraph from Holt's official document, is the sleight-of-hand used to deceptively take the concern about "DRE print-outs" and quickly mutate it into one of "the assistance of a machine to create a paper ballot" for disabled voters.
There are voting machines such as the AutoMARK which may be used by those who "require the assistance of a machine to create a paper ballot," but which do not cast and count an unverifiable electronic ballot. Rather, such assistive machines, often referred to as Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), help provide true paper ballots to be printed and verified by the voters before they are then cast and counted by another device or by hand.
Of course, the author of the document, Mulder, and Holt himself, know the difference very well between dangerous DRE systems, and less-dangerous, verifiable, non-tabulating electronic BMD devices for use by the blind and disabled. I've discussed that point personally with both of them on numerous occassions. The conflation quoted above therefore is purposely deceptive, and in my opinion, unforgivable, given the ramifications it will have, if successful towards passage of this bill, to both America and the world.
There is more such egregiously misleading disinformation on that same official Holt page, but I'll leave that for another day.
And yet Holt's office is not the only one carrying off such a knowing disinformation campaign on this specific issue.
In precisely the same vein, Holt's most powerful public-advocacy proponent, PFAW --- which actually advocates the use DRE systems as preferable to paper ballot systems, by the way --- continuously makes the same dishonest conflation in single-minded pursuit of building support for this currently very flawed bill. Their published analysis of the Holt bill [PDF] argues (misleadingly) that "DREs afford voters with disabilities an opportunity to cast an independent secret ballot— something that optical scan paper ballots cannot fully do."
While their analysis may be true, as taken literally, it's deceptive for its misleading by omission. As my hours of discussions with PFAW's Executive Director Ralph Neas and others involved in lobbying for the Holt bill at the organization confirm, they know full well that there are non-DRE devices available which offer the exact same advantages for "voters with disabilities" without the many dangers posed by DREs. Nonetheless, they purposely continue to conflate and confuse the issue publicly and, I would argue, opportunistically in hopes of lobbying for the bill as written to allow for the continued use of the DREs which they've stated that they prefer to paper-based systems (for reasons that they have failed to satisfactorily identify to me or anyone else that I know of.)
If we could learn the names of these purported pro-DRE congress members, perhaps we might be able to make certain that such members are well informed about less dangerous and truly voter-verifiable alternatives which have the additional advantage of complying with the rule of law under HAVA.
Until then, however, I keep waiting. And marveling at how many well-intentioned, well-educated Election Integrity advocates --- fighting, ironically enough for transparency and verifiability in elections --- are willing to accept, on faith, a talking point from the bill's author and most powerful proponent (PFAW), without even bothering to get transparent, verifiable information on the #1 talking point concerning why a DRE ban could not succeed in Congress.
So, anybody? Any names? Just one? I'm waiting...
Brad Friedman is an investigative journalist, blogger, proprietor of The BRAD BLOG, and an authority on issues related to American election integrity.