Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) is trying again. After learning a lesson or two, from his failed attempt to push an unpopular Election Reform bill (HR811) through Congress, he's scaling back in hopes of getting something passed that may help bring accountability to the 2008 election cycle.
The latest version of the bill, coming in at a relatively slim 20 pages, is available here [PDF].
We certainly applaud the effort in general, and note that it mirrors some of the simple, doable-by-'08 initiatives we've been speaking with a few folks in Congress about behind the scenes.
In brief, the bill we've been discussing, with several Congressional offices, after common ground discussions with a number of EI advocates, a representative from the National Association of Counties (NaCO) and even a Republican who had initially worked on the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), but disliked the resulting bill, would call for the following:
- Money to states and/or counties who wish to move to paper ballot systems.
- A requirement that all voters be asked before voting if they wish to vote on paper (and that those paper ballots actually be counted before unofficial tallies are released to the media).
- Grant money to further study disability voting technology and hand-counting systems.
- Restrictions to no more than one DRE per polling place to marginally meet HAVA's mandate for voters with disabilities.
Holt's new bill would do a few, if not all of those things.
In his run at it this time, his bill would simply offer federal funding for jurisdictions who wish to move to paper ballots (that's good), and also offer money to help pay for post-election audits of those ballots...if they choose to do so. It also sets aside money for study of disability voting technology, as we'd also recommended.
Perhaps he has become a bit too timid after his previous unfortunate experience. Though the bill has not yet been introduced officially --- so language is not yet finalized, thus we'll hold full fire until we see the final product --- the audits recommended in his bill would be optional. As well, there are currently no requirements in his bill to mandate that Election Officials actually count those paper ballots, paid for with federal dollars, before releasing unofficial vote tallies to the media. That last is no small point (just ask Al Gore or Christine Jennings).
And most puzzling of all, in the bill which would only apply to the 2008 general election, there is also no requirement at all to make those federally-funded paper ballots available to all voters who'd like to vote on them.
It seems to us that if a state or county chooses to take federal money to pay for their paper ballots, attaching a few common sense strings, like the ones mentioned above, would be perfectly appropriate. Perhaps such changes can be made during the committee process or on the Senate side.
But hey, no bill's perfect, and this one certainly appears to be a welcome step, at least, in the right direction. It would help to begin turning the Titanic around by making the move to paper ballots much easier. And, most notably, it would not federally institutionalize secret software and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, touch-screen) voting machines as Holt's previous HR811 would have. That bill, and the many concerns about it, was exhaustively covered by The BRAD BLOG over the past year. (See our special coverage here.)
Steve Rosenfeld at Alternet has details on Holt's new initiative, along with a few scintillating --- and mostly accurate --- quoted comments in reply from yours truly and a few others.