Meet The New Holt Bill

Same As the Old Holt Bill

I hope we won't get fooled again.

Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, one of the nation's leading election integrity watchdog groups, and our colleague Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG, weigh in on a draft of a new bill from Congressman Rush Holt, (D) New Jersey, tentatively called the "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2009."

The discussion draft of the bill can be read here [pdf, 62 pages].

Bev Harris writes that the so-called "new" Holt bill is "basically exactly the same as the old Holt Bill, and every bit as much a danger to our liberty as the other Holt Bill. In fact, clause for clause, it's pretty much the same."

She continues: "Now, one wonders, in a new administration and with new political realities, why would one put forth a bill that supports secret vote counting?"

Good question.

"The new Holt Bill, just like the old one, seeks to further centralize power and to further institutionalize the concept of counting our votes in secret. It is a danger to our right to self-government," writes Harris.

Brad Friedman has done some analysis of the proposed bill, and he finds much to be concerned about. In general, he finds that "while the bill offers some improvements over previous versions, the major flaws still inherent in the legislation -- as it's currently drafted -- will fail to ensure the security, accuracy, and transparency that American democracy requires and deserves."

One the one hand, the bill would require "the use of an individual, durable, voter-verified, paper ballot" for every vote. And that's a good thing. But in it's current form, the bill would also allow those ballots to be "marked through the use of a nontabulating ballot marking device or system." That's a problem.

Ballot marking devices, or BMDs, are touchscreen computers on which a voter makes his/her selections, and then the ballot is printed out. They are dangerous devices on which to run an election. For one thing, they are know to sometimes flip votes. See this report for Brad Friedman's own personal experience with a BMD in June of 2008, and how it mismarked his ballot.

"Further," writes Friedman, "concerns about computer-printed ballots was illustrated by several academic studies. One, from Caltech/MIT described how some 80% of voters do not take the time to verify the accuracy of computer printed records or ballots. Another, even more disturbing, from Rice University in the Summer of 2007, found that, among those few who do bother to review the computerized summary of their selections at the end of the voting process, two-thirds of them don't notice at all when the computer has flipped a selection from one candidate to another, or changed a vote on a ballot initiative."

The very important issue of transparency, a vital component to clean and verifiable elections, receives no boost in this draft bill. Friedman reports that in this bill, "corporate trade secrets, fully protected, take precedence, apparently, before you, the voter. Not good for a public voting system, designed for, and paid for by, the public, who deserve no less than 100% transparency for any system used to carry out public elections, the very heart of our democracy."

Friedman does find some good things in this draft, including a requirement that "federal voting system test labs must disclose test results, good or bad, and make them 'available promptly to election officials and the public' after testing is completed."

More details on his analysis can be read on his blog post.


Meet The New Holt Bill:

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