With People for the American Way (PFAW) Serving as Broker, Press Agent...
By Bob Bancroft on 7/30/2007, 9:05am PT  

Guest Blogged by Bob Bancroft of VotersUnite

Rep. Rush Holt's HR 811 Election Reform bill has become an enigma. After years of healthy dialogue with the election integrity community, Congressman Holt’s office now seems unresponsive. Just last week, rumors began to circulate that the Holt bill was adrift, its future uncertain. We later learned that the bill had entered into a series of secret negotiations, involving Majority Leader Hoyer, Speaker Pelosi, and other undisclosed parties.

Despite repeated attempts to contact anyone from the offices of Holt, Hoyer or Pelosi for a simple update, the week went by without a single call returned.

Now, we receive our first glimpse of the newly compromised Holt. We learn of the bill not from its author, nor Leader Hoyer, nor any elected, public official. Instead, it would seem that communications surrounding the bill flow through People For the American Way (PFAW), in the form of a late-Friday press release.

On Saturday, the New York Times confirmed that it was PFAW's President, Ralph Neas, in fact, who brokered the deal.

At a time when public confidence in our elected officials, and indeed the very process by which they are elected, is badly shaken, this is not helpful. VotersUnite will form an opinion of Hoyer-Holt only after careful reading of the text, which remains unavailable at the time of this writing. However, we are troubled that our Representatives would choose to conduct themselves in this circuitous manner, especially while considering something as fundamental as our right to vote.

Following is the full text of the original press release on the new, compromise version of HR-811, as issued by PFAW on Friday...

PFAW: Best chance to give voters paper trails, confidence in voting in 2008 and beyond

WASHINGTON, July 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --- Today, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey announced a compromise that will advance H.R. 811, the "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007." The bill bans paperless voting machines and requires a voter-verified paper record for every vote in the country.

"Today's announcement gives Americans renewed hope that Congress will soon put an end to unaccountable, unverifiable, and inaccessible voting," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way. "Millions of voters were disenfranchised in recent elections, and millions of others have wondered if their votes were correctly counted. That is intolerable. Given how much is at stake in the coming elections, passing this legislation should be the nation's top domestic legislative priority."

The Hoyer-Holt compromise to H.R. 811:

-- Ensures that by the 2008 presidential elections there will be a paper record for all votes cast in federal elections, and makes the paper ballot the ballot of record for purposes of a recount;

-- Institutes a system of mandatory random audits;

-- Prohibits wireless devices in voting machines;

-- Makes voting system "source code" --- the software that runs the voting machine --- subject to examination should discrepancies arise;

-- Provides for emergency paper ballots should voting machines break down or fail in any way.

-- Mandates upgrades to provide durable paper records and enhanced accessible technology by 2012.

Neas praised the tenacious efforts of Majority Leader Hoyer, Representative Holt, and members of a diverse coalition to reach a compromise that achieves all those essential goals, and noted that the legislation includes requirements to ensure accessibility as well as accuracy and reliability, a provision that has garnered a letter of appreciation from the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities.

Neas also noted that the compromise addresses some concerns raised by local election officials about having sufficient time and resources to comply with new requirements. The bill authorizes over $1 billion to offset anticipated costs to state and local governments. It also provides a reasonable fix for election officials so they are not forced to purchase all new technology by November 2008, while still providing voters with the ability to verify their votes. Election officials will have the option to upgrade their DREs to include verifiable paper records as in interim step or use optical scan voting systems.

"The status quo is unacceptable, and maintaining the status quo in 2008 with this fair and practical solution before us would be inexcusable," Neas said. "We urge Members of Congress to recognize the 'urgency of now' and call for swift bipartisan approval in the House of Representatives."

SOURCE People for the American Way