Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tubbs-Jones outlines Count Every Vote Act

Exclusive: Congresswoman who challenged Ohio votes explains ‘Count Every Vote Act’

By Matthew Cardinale RAW STORY Contributor

In an exclusive interview with RAW STORY, the House Democrat who signed the challenge to Ohio’s electoral votes spoke passionately about her new Count Every Vote Act, a bill aimed at enhancing federal election standards to address problems which arose in recent elections.

The bill, said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), seeks to ensure guidelines regarding provisional ballots and paper records for electronic voting. It would also create a federal voting holiday and allow ex-felons to vote.

Tubbs-Jones, a former judge, relished the opportunity to flesh out the bill, saying Tuesday that the mainstream press had focused largely on specific provisions.

“I was on a radio show recently and the guy kept wanting to focus on the provision to make Election Day a national holiday,” Rep. Tubbs-Jones said.

The 65-page Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on behalf of Sens. Boxer (D-CA), Kerry (D-MA), Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Milkulski (D-MD). Comparable legislation was introduced by Tubbs-Jones (D-OH) in the House.

The bill would mandate certain aspects of how states run federal elections. It would require a voter-verified paper trail for electronic voting, create uniform standards for provisional ballots, and make Election Day a national holiday.

In addition, Count Every Vote would allow ex-felons to vote in federal elections, make electronic voting source codes available for government record, and prevent Secretaries of State from participating in partisan campaign activities.

The bill also includes federal funding provisions to assist states’ compliance.

Common Cause, a progressive advocacy group, said they appreciated the fact the bill addressed myriad issues.

“While there are other specific single bills already out there, like the paper trail for electronic voting bill, this bill is meant to set the Gold Standard for fixing these problems,” Common Cause Vice President of Policy and Research Ed Davis said.

“The federal government has passed very few mandates regarding voting,” Davis added. “Even if they are specific to federal elections, it typically pushes states to follow them too, because it doesn’t make much sense for states to hold two separate elections.”

Paper Trail

Rep. Tubbs-Jones asserts that a paper trail for electronic voting is essential.

“Computers are by no means flawless,” the congresswoman told RAW STORY. “When we had our hearings in Ohio, we had a technical expert who said it could be rigged.”

“I’m more concerned that there are more problems than actually came to light,” she added.

Tubbs-Jones’s Chief of Staff, Patrice Willoughby, clarified the need for a paper trail.

“Electronic machines have the capacity to print the vote as it is taking place, but they haven’t been calibrated to do so in many cases, so there’s no way to audit,” Willoughby said, adding there also is no law currently requiring such a record to be maintained. “It’s like when you’re doing accounting and you want to compare your receipts from each transaction with your whole tally. There’s no way to compare the individual votes with the tallying at the end of the day.”

“The integrity of the system is the most important thing, and we have to make sure that the system is transparent in order to ensure that integrity,” said Willoughby.

Common Cause’s Davis said Count Every Vote would solve the problem, allowing for an audit to verify the vote tally was accurate.

“As a voter, you would be able to print out from the machine a voter-verifiable ballot,” Davis said. “You could verify it. It would stay on record but would not include your name or have any information to identify you from the paper record.”

“If you talk to most computer science people, they will tell you software is complex, inevitably there are errors, and there are ways to write malicious coding into the software,” Davis continued. “The other thing, for anyone who uses computers, they’re not perfect, they crash, they break down, and they lose information.”

In the 2004 election, for example, one Ohio precinct’s “technical glitch” caused almost 4,000 extra votes to be recorded, most of which had been assigned to President Bush. In other states where computer voting was used, voters complained that the screen would switch to “Bush” even when they had selected “Kerry.”

“Also in North Carolina, a machine stopped counting votes at a certain point and about 4,000 votes were lost,” Davis added. “People voted, but the votes were just lost.”

Ex-Felon Voting

Rep. Tubbs-Jones also explained why she felt ex-felons deserved to be able to vote.

“Part of the bill is to allow ex-felons to vote because we want to give them an opportunity to become part of society again,” Tubbs-Jones said. “Once they serve their time, they ought to be part our society again. The trend has been that a disproportionate number of African Americans are in the criminal justice system for drug offenses and are coming out at a large rate. I don’t know how ex-felons are going to vote [in terms of party preference], but they should be able to vote.

“They want a job,” she continued. “They want a family. They want full participation in the process. They do want to vote, especially when many of them are aware that the situation they’re in has to do with policies and who’s in office.

“We brandish freedom and democracy around the world; why not here?” she asked.

Provisional Ballots

Count Every Vote also provides guidelines for creating a uniform process of handling provisional ballots.

“In Ohio in 2004, our Secretary of State [Kenneth Blackwell] issued different rules in the Primary Election and the General Election regarding provisional ballots,” Congresswoman Tubbs-Jones said. “What he did was within the law–but the point is, he made it so restrictive. Currently states’ laws on provisional ballots are so different.”

“Provisional ballots are really a backup,” added Ed Davis of Common Cause. “The problem is not usually with voters, but with voter lists. There are duplicate names, or sometimes states purge the names of people who should be registered.

“Different states purge voters for a variety of reasons; some states do it because a person didn’t vote in the last two years,” Davis continued.

“Also, sometimes officials will tell voters to go to the wrong polling place… Then on Election Day, there’s no time to direct people to the right precinct, that is, if polling places even have that information,” he added. “If you show up at the wrong precinct in some states, they won’t count your ballot. You shouldn’t be prevented from voting for President for any reason.”

Davis says Democrats will need to win over Republicans to get the legislation passed.

In the overall elections policy landscape this year, Davis explained, “Republicans are more concerned with voter fraud, and Democrats think it should be easier for people to vote,” and that voter fraud is not as a widespread problem as voting barriers and disenfranchisement.

“Republicans have tried to avoid this issue because to admit that something needs to be fixed is like admitting something was wrong with the 2004 election,” Davis added.

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