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National Issues

Surprise: Election Reforms Politicized PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet   
April 15, 2008
From an article posted at AlterNet and reposted here with permission of the author. To read the full article please visit AltetrNet.

The Bush Administration and House Republicans led to the likely defeat of an election reform bill, HR 5036, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) that would have helped many counties and states buy voting machines with a paper trail before the fall presidential election. The bill, which also would pay for audits to check the accuracy of vote counts, was the first election integrity vote to come before the House in years.

According to Congressional Quarterly, "Democrats put the bill on the part of Tuesday's calendar used for non-controversial measures. It was brought up under suspension of the rules, which required a two-thirds vote for passage. But the final tally, 239-178, fell far short of the margin needed."

CQ
reported that Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee -- who supported the bill in committee -- said many GOP House members opposed the bill because of its price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimated its cost as high as $685 million after the committee approved the bill on April 2, although other estimates by its backers cited a much-lower figure.

"This bill would represent a real step forward in our effort to protect the accuracy, integrity and security of the November elections," Holt said, in a statement issued after the vote. The bill that the House leadership scheduled for a vote today is the same one that passed two weeks ago without the objection of a single Committee member. There is no reason why this should be a partisan issue but the Republicans evidently have chosen to make it so. The White House issued a statement opposing the bill and 176 of 203 Republicans voted that way."
 
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House GOP Leaders and White House Deliver Blow to Verifiable Election PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By Common Cause Press Release   
April 15, 2008
After a year of consideration, the House today unexpectedly failed to pass in a streamlined process a bill that would have authorized funding for states to replace paperless electronic voting machines in time for the presidential election in November.

"Our voting systems are in shambles, and seven months before we choose our next president, the White House and House Republican leaders today delivered a blow to secure elections and the ability to conduct meaningful recounts," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "The United States is spending billions of dollars to build democracy overseas, yet our own Congress turned its back on the workings of our own democracy."

At stake is Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008. The bill had been placed on the House "suspension" calendar, meaning it needed two-thirds support to pass. Democrats and Republicans last week had reached agreement and passage was expected today.

Then the White House at the eleventh hour issued a statement urging the House to vote against the bill. And, in an unexpected move, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the minority whip, also came out against the bill.
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Holt Blasts Republicans for Blocking Emergency Voting Bill PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By Rep. Rush Holt Press Release   
April 15, 2008
Legislation Would Encourage States to Conduct Verifiable Elections

Rep. Rush Holt (pictured at right) today strongly criticized House members for blocking legislation – the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008 (H.R. 5036) – that would encourage states to conduct verifiable elections by converting to a paper ballot voting system, offering emergency paper ballots, and conducting hand-counted audits. Two weeks ago, the same legislation passed the House Administration Committee with bipartisan, unanimous support, including from some of those who voted to block the bill’s passage today.

“This bill would represent a real step forward in our effort to protect the accuracy, integrity and security of the November elections,” Holt said. “The bill that the House leadership scheduled for a vote today is the same one that passed two weeks ago without the objection of a single Committee member. There is no reason why this should be a partisan issue but the Republicans evidently have chosen to make it so. The White House issued a statement opposing the bill and 176 of 203 Republicans voted that way”

H.R. 5036, as reported to the floor by the committee, would authorize funding to reimburse states with paperless jurisdictions that convert to paper-based voting systems in 2008 or provide emergency paper ballots that would be counted as regular ballots in the event of machine failure. The reimbursements would cover the cost of equipment conversion (from paperless touch screen machines to paper-based systems, such as optical scanners or computers with printers) and the cost of developing procedures for conducting hand-counted audits using independent, random selection of at least 2 percent of the precincts for audits under public observation.
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National Campaign Releases Primary Report PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Jonah Goldman, for The National Campaign for Fair Elections   
April 15, 2008
With the Pennsylvania Primary less than a week away, the National Campaign released a report detailing Election Protection’s findings in this year’s primaries thus far titled, "Looking Ahead to November."  The report highlights a range of problems experienced by voters this primary season, ranging from machine malfunction to voter intimidation.

While each state has experienced different difficulties, there are some common obstacles that voters across the country faced. The report examines these obstacles, and offers recommendations for how election officials across the country can prevent many of these problems from occurring. Click here to read the report.

The Cost of E-Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Kim Zetter   
April 05, 2008
This article was posted at Wired.com's Threat Level Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

One reason election officials around the country have given for purchasing touch-screen voting machines is that they say the systems save money -- both in the cost of printing paper ballots and in storing them after an election. Officials have made this claim, despite the fact that the machines carry a steep price tag (about $3,000 per machine).

So SaveOurVotes (.pdf), a voting integrity group in Maryland, decided to see if the 19,000 touch-screen machines their state purchased really did save money. The results aren't really a surprise -- the machines are wildly more expensive than anyone anticipated. But just how expensive they are makes their analysis mandatory reading for any legislators and state or county budget committees that approve voting equipment purchases.

Maryland uses one system statewide -- touch-screen machines made by Diebold Election Systems -- which it purchased in batches in 2002 and 2003. A loan of about $67 million was taken out from the state treasury to pay Diebold for the machines, which counties are still paying off. They'll continue to pay for the machines through 2014, even though the state has since decided to scrap the touch-screen machines, due to security concerns, and change to optical-scan machines by 2010.

Nonetheless, according to SaveOurVotes' figures, by the end of the presidential election this year, Maryland will have spent more than $97.5 million on the machines it's abandoning, but only about half of that can be attributed to the actual cost of purchasing the machines.

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New York Times: Safeguarding Electronic Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By Mew York Times   
April 04, 2008
This editorial was posted at the New York Times on April 4, 2008.

After the bungled voting and vote-counting in Florida in 2000, Americans agreed that the nation’s voting systems had to be upgraded. With a presidential election fast approaching, there is a real danger of another meltdown — this time because of the flaws in electronic voting.

This week, a House committee approved a good emergency bill, sponsored by Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, that would help fix the problems. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, should schedule a vote of the full House as soon as possible.

After the 2000 election, Congress made money available to the states to replace the punch-card machines that produced Florida’s infamous hanging and dimpled chads. Unfortunately, many states bought untrustworthy, paperless electronic voting machines. Experience has shown that these machines do not always record the votes that are cast and that they sometimes flip votes from one candidate to another. Expert studies have also proved that they are highly vulnerable to vote theft.

The answer to these problems is voter-verified paper trails — paper records of every vote. After an election, the totals on the machines can be compared with the paper records. If there is a discrepancy, the paper records become the official results.
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Robert F. Kennedy's speech on the Death of Martin Luther King PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Robert F. Kennedy   
April 04, 2008
Forty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King was assasinated. Robert F. Kennedy learned of Dr. King's death just  after he arrived by plane at Indianapolis for a campaign rally,  Kennedy was told of King's death. He was advised by police against making the campaign stop which was in a part of the city considered to be a dangerous ghetto. But Kennedy insisted on going. He arrived to find the people in an upbeat mood, anticipating the excitement of a Kennedy appearance. He climbed onto the platform, and realizing they did not know, broke the news.

Ladies and Gentlemen - I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening. Because...

I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

For those of you who are black - considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible - you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization - black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that's true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love - a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people. Thank you very much.
Internet Voting is Too Risky for Public Elections PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Verified Voting Foundation   
April 03, 2008
The Verified Voting Foundation issued a warning today that the Internet is not safe for casting ballots in important public elections.  Many computer scientists and others are concerned because Internet voting was used in the Democratic Party's Presidential primary for overseas voters in February, and because several state and national legislators recently have expressed an interest in Internet voting as an option for military service personnel overseas.

“Internet voting is vulnerable to all the risks of paperless computerized voting machines; it allows no meaningful recounts or audits,” said Barbara Simons, a computer scientist and expert on Internet voting. “If ballots are cast on the Internet, attacks on the election can be made by anyone with an Internet connection anywhere in the world, including individual hackers, political parties, international criminal organizations, hostile foreign governments, or even terrorists.”

“The Internet could be used to make voting easier, by, for example, allowing military and overseas voters a convenient way to obtain an absentee ballot, but votes delivered over the Internet cannot be trusted,” said David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford University and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation.  "Multiple studies by computer scientists have shown that making Internet voting safe is an incredibly hard problem, not solved yet, and possibly unsolvable.  At this point, any claims of ‘secure Internet voting’ should be regarded with extreme skepticism.”

House Panel Passes Rep. Susan Davis’s No-Excuse Absentee Ballot Legislation PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By Representative Susan Davis Press Release   
April 02, 2008
The Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act would allow all eligible voters an option to vote by mail

The bill by Rep. Susan Davis to lift restrictions for voting by mail in some states was approved by the House Administration Committee.  The Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act (H.R. 281) was reported to the full House on a voice vote.

“This straightforward bill would simply give any eligible voter the option of voting by absentee ballot,” said Davis, a member of the committee.  “No longer would an antiquated patchwork of state laws prevent voters from voting because they have work, family or other commitments.  We will level the playing field by allowing voters in the states that do not have No Excuse Absentee Voting to catch up to the twenty-nine that do.”

Currently, there are twenty-two states that restrict an eligible voter’s ability to vote by mail, also know as absentee.  These states restrict vote by mail privileges to certain categories of people, including the elderly, individuals with disabilities or an illness, or those in the military.  Twenty-eight states give eligible voters the option of voting by mail for any reason.  Oregon conducts its elections entirely by mail.

In many states, excuses such as having to work, taking care of a child, or serving on a jury are not considered valid reasons to be able to vote absentee.
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House Administration Committee Approves Holt Emergency Voting Bill PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By U.S. Representative Rush Holt Press Release   
April 02, 2008
Legislation Would Reimburse State and Local Jurisdictions That Opt in for Voter-Verified Paper Ballots and/or Audits

(Washington, D.C.) – The House of Representatives Committee on House Administration today approved the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008, legislation introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) to allow states to opt-in to receive reimbursements from the federal government if they convert to a paper ballot voting system, offer emergency paper ballots, and/or conduct hand-counted audits or by hand, count the results of their elections.

“I introduced this bill earlier this year to ensure that we protect the accuracy, integrity and security of the 2008 general elections,” Holt said. “I am pleased the Committee on House Administration recognized the need to act to help states prevent disputes and uncertainties involving the November election. We will achieve real progress if we can encourage more states to give every voter a verified paper ballot. And it will be a real step forward if we can encourage more states to conduct audits.”

The bill approved by the Committee would authorize funding to reimburse states with paperless jurisdictions that convert to paper-based voting systems in 2008, as well those that don’t fully convert to a paper-based system but provide emergency paper ballots that would be counted as regular ballots in the event of machine failure. The reimbursements would cover the cost of equipment conversion (from paperless touch screen machines to optical scanners and ballot marking devices or, as authorized by a Committee amendment, by attaching printers to the touch screens) and the cost of developing procedures for conducting hand-counted audits or hand counting the results of elections.
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