Monday, February 07, 2005

Put it on my bill, please

Battle of the Bills: G.O.P. Election Reform Bill Now Before Senate Considered By Progressive Activists to Be Better Than Democratic One; Sun Explodes


Here at The Advocate, we call it like we see it -- and what we see as we look out on the election reform movement today is two competing and mutually exclusive election reform bills in the U.S. Senate. And we prefer the Republican one. Sponsored by Senator John Ensign (R-NV), the Voting Integrity and Verification Act of 2005 (VIVA) would accomplish four vital objectives, and do so in time for the 2006 general election (text taken from the official report of The National Ballot Integrity Project):

1. "Voters [will] be able to verify the accuracy of their ballot 'in a private and independent manner' by allowing the voter to review an individual paper version of the 'voter's ballot' before the 'voter's ballot' is cast and counted;
2. "All electronic records produced by any voting system will be consistent with the paper records";
3. "In the event of any inconsistencies or irregularities between any electronic records and paper records, the voter-verified paper record is considered the true and correct record of the votes cast";
4. "The paper ballots [will] be used as the official record for the purpose of any recount or audit conducted with respect to any election for Federal Office."

The text of VIVA 2005 (which would serve as a retroactive amendment to the 2002 Help America Vote Act, or HAVA) can be found here.

In contrast to VIVA, a competing bill recently introduced by Senator Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, would allow for other forms of audit besides paper, would not take effect until 2009, and would only impact machines purchased in 2009 or after.

This is unacceptable.

The primary features of the Dodd legislation include (again credit here to The National Ballot Integrity Project, see link above):

1. "Mandates a list of verification options that must be offered to each voter: a paper record, an audio record, pictorial record, electronic record or any other means of verification which is equal or superior to verification through the use of a paper record";
2. "Takes effect on January 1, 2009,";
3. "[Does not apply] to any voting system purchased before that date [January 1, 2009]";
4. "[Could] interfer[e] with state-level voter-verified paper ballot bills that have already been passed into law by a number of states";
5. "[Could] further restrict[] the range of HAVA-compliant choices from which states can choose to meet their voting system needs [and lead to] more paperless DREs."

The text of the Dodd Bill (also known as "S.17" or the "Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2005 [VOTER]," and also technically treated as a HAVA amendment) can be found [in .pdf format] here.

We at The Advocate must note here that VOTER 2005 does have numerous strong suits, and these features should and must be part of any pending or future election reform legislation.

Among these features are the following:

1. a standardized federal absentee ballot which can be used by anyone, regardless of whether they have an "excuse" for not voting in person (these ballots would only have to be postmarked by Election Day, but could arrive at their destination as many as ten days later; spelling errors or other technical mistakes would not invalidate the ballot; the ballot would be accessible for download from the internet; this provision would take effect on January 1, 2007);
2. provisional ballots would be counted, regardless of where they were cast within a state, if the voter who cast the ballot was eligible to vote (this provision would take effect on January 1, 2007)
3. there must be "uniform and nondiscriminatory geographic distribution" of voting systems across voting precincts based on a pre-approved algorithm to be adopted by the Election Assistance Commission (this provision would take effect on January 1, 2007);
4. same-day registration will be allowed in all states where federal offices are at stake (this provision would take effect on January 1, 2007);
5. "Not later than 45 days before any Federal election, each State shall provide public notice of all names which have been removed from the voter registration list of such State" (this provision would take effect on January 1, 2007);
6. regarding so-called "early voting," VOTER says "each State shall allow individuals to vote in an election for Federal office not less than 15 days prior to the day scheduled for such election in the same manner as voting is allowed on such day" (with uniform hours each day and at least four hours of open polls each day; and non-discriminatory placement of voting machines, as above; this provision would take effect on January 1, 2007);
7. internet voter registration would be allowed, and all other forms of voter registration would be made easier;
8. studies pending into whether Election Day should be a national holiday would be greatly accelerated;
9. rules regarding the regulation of a federal election could not be changed less than 15 days before a general election; and
10. "voting rights and civil rights organizations" and "nonpartisan domestic observers and international observers" would have equal access to polling places as compared to that access allowed for "party challengers."

Let us be clear -- VOTER is a great bill in many respects.

Unfortunately, its most important provisions either take effect too late, affect too few voting systems, or conflict with the efforts now being made by election reform advocates to move toward a paper audit -- not audio, not pictorial, not electronic -- for all ballots cast in the United States.

The Advocate urges the passing of VIVA and the immediate redirecting of the provisions of VOTER itemized in the numbered list above to a new election reform bill.

Like VIVA, that's a bill we would support.


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