Republicans 'Chortle' as House Democrats Wrangle in an Attempt to Bring Real Election Reform to a Crumbling System of Democracy...
By Brad Friedman on 9/7/2007, 10:54am PT  

By Brad Friedman from Richfield, UT...

As we reported from a source late last night, today's scheduled hearing in the House Rules Committee for Rush Holt's Election Reform Bill (HR 811) has been canceled. The same source had also said that if the hearing was canceled, it could mean an "indefinite hold" for the controversial legislation.

Today, Republicans are predictably enjoying what has been termed as a Democratic "split," by The Hill, and a Democratic "revolt," by Politico, in the majority-led Rules Committee, once known as "The Speakers Committee" since it's generally the last stop before legislation hits the House Floor. It's also the place where the leadership determines whether amendments will be allowed to be brought for such legislation.

Of course, what Republicans seem to find most amusing is that Democrats in Congress don't necessarily march in lock-step, as they do. Instead, the Democrats seem to have this crazy idea that in a democracy, there should be actual, responsible debate, care, and attention to details for an Election Reform bill which would have enormous national consequences to every local, state, and federal race in the union for decades to come. Go figure.

"Democrats believe in democracy, unlike that monolith we had before," committee chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) told The Hill.

Nonetheless, the Republicans are attempting to make partisan hay from the situation. Minority Leader John Boehner's website described the situation as a "House Committee Meltdown" yesterday. A spokesperson for David Drier (R-CA), the ranking member on the House Committee described the situation as "chaos."

They're all right. Democracy is chaos. Though the Holt bill has been largely dysfunctional from the get-go as its lead author, Rush Holt (D-NJ) began with a very open process, inviting many voices (including our own) into the bill's drafting process, but then shut down the process in favor of both fear and agenda-driven interests...

People for the American Way (PFAW), for example, was allowed to keep a ban on Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting machines off the table, under the unevidenced notion that there was no support in Congress for such a ban. That, despite virtually every computer scientist and voting system expert in the world arguing that DREs cannot be used safely --- with or without a so-called "paper trail" --- in American democracy. Recent calls for a DRE ban from members of Congress and even the New York Times would counter that notion. But, of course, PFAW actually prefers DREs to paper-ballot systems, as we've tried to alert folks in the past.

Corporate behemoth Microsoft did the dirty work on behalf of the the voting machine vendors, leveraging its considerable lobbying power to shut down one of the best provisions in the originally introduced bill, which would have required full disclosure, to any member of the pubic, of the currently-secret source code which runs the machinery of our democracy. Microsoft's lobbying forced a change to keep the source code a trade secret, available only to so-called "experts" and only in the event of a post-Election challenge. Republicans watching out for corporate interests, rather than government of the people, by the people, and for the people, were undoubtedly pleased.

The overhaul to the source-code provisions led even Holt to decry the effect of Microsoft on the bill as it was amended months ago in the House Administration Committee. "Unfortunately, the committee that made this change heard from Microsoft. They heard that voice...It wasn't just Microsoft...it was software --- the software industry."

Previously, Holt's legislative aide on the bill, Michelle Mulder, wrote to a large group of Election Integrity advocates, including NYU's Media Professor and author, Mark Crispin Miller, declaring, "you can take up your concerns with Microsoft and others in the proprietary software industry."

Mulder, however, went on to blame Election Integrity advocates --- presumably including The BRAD BLOG --- who had opposed the bill as written on a number of grounds. She said it was our fault that one of the original bill's best provisions was watered down. "During Committee proceedings they [Microsoft] lobbied very heavily against the language that was in the bill as introduced," Mulder wrote, "and none of you lobbied in favor of the language that was in the bill as introduced, and thus, the software industry won. It's very simple, really."

Mulder failed to note that many in the Election Integrity community --- the largest and most powerful groups, in fact --- had been in favor of the bill and had lobbied strongly for it. Others in the community had worked hard to amend it to include a number of "Essential Revisions" deemed imperative for such a monumentally important piece of legislation.

Ultimately, some EI advocates would go on to describe the bill as "Microsoft 811" and Democratic members of the Rules Committee this week had concerns that the bill either went too far, or didn't go far enough.

But it was the powerful state elections officials who may have ruled the day. As usual, they want no Federal interference in "their" elections, and --- more notably --- don't wish to have any mandates placed on them for either the type of voting machinery they choose to use or the way in which they use it.

Most such officials around the country continue to buy into the voting machine company propaganda that their voting systems are safe for use any way they decide to use them. That, despite their having been found vulnerable to hacking time and again, prone to failure time and again, and completely lacking in transparency to the public, for whom confidence in elections and the right to vote --- and have that vote counted accurately --- is the very bedrock of democracy.

The Democrats then, for the most part, ever fearful of taking bold measures even when in their hearts they know it's the right thing to do, buckled to all of the above. And so we find ourselves where we are today.

Where will it all go from here? Stay tuned. Your guess is as good as ours at the moment. But there's one thing we believe to be the case no matter what happens with this particular bill. Advocates of the Holt bill have long argued in its favor by admitting that it's flawed, but stating (as fact) that either the Holt bill gets passed, or nothing will get passed. That false dichotomy, as we reported many moons ago, is and was little more than a desperate, divisive fear-tactic and a canard.

If HR 811 dies in committee, or even on the floor of the House, should it ever get there, the alternative is not "nothing," as the nearly-universal belief that our system of democracy is dysfunctional and crumbling is more present now than ever. Both state legislation --- as well as new, so-far un-introduced federal legislation --- will likely fill the vacuum should the Holt bill find its way into the dust bin of history.

As we've said, stay tuned...