Friday, March 09, 2007

Review Ongoing Rush Holt Paper Ballot Bill

Rush Holt's bill is still pending in the House of Representatives. The bill may undergo changes... Some voting integrity and security organizations have raised objections and forwarded to Holt's office.

See Black Box Voting » Latest Consumer Reports from Black Box Voting » 2-8-07: Beware of the Bandwagon -- A concise list of problems with Holt Bill HR 811

Note: Holt offers explanation for use of the term "paper ballots" in material posted on his website.

54 counties may be poll-axed
New federal standards could make most voting machines in Pa. obsolete after 1 year
Friday, March 09, 2007
By Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nine counties in Pennsylvania have the type of optical scanner voting machines that easily will meet proposed new federal standards. Another 54 -- including Allegheny County -- will have to buy new machines or find a way to retrofit millions of dollars worth of equipment they bought just last year, according to VotePA, a voters' rights organization.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., has 198 co-sponsors of a bill to make additional changes to voting procedures as a follow to the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The changes would require that each voting machine have a paper trail using archival-quality paper so results can be verified, and that they be fully accessible to handicapped people.

The changes could be costly.

Last year, Congress made $3 billion available to help counties comply with HAVA. Mr. Holt's bill would provide another $300 million to upgrade or replace machines that wouldn't meet the proposed standards.

In Pennsylvania alone, 54 counties use a type of electronic machine that doesn't have an appropriate printer available, said Marybeth Kuznik, executive director of VotePA. Allegheny County, for example, used a $12 million federal grant to buy 4,600 iVotronic touch-screen machines.

Electronic Systems & Software, which manufactures iVotronic, currently doesn't have a printer available that would meet the new standards. Across the country, there are 97,000 iVotronic machines in use, including in the counties of Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Greene, Mercer and Westmoreland.

Those machines can be attached to a printer, but the only model currently available uses paper similar to a cash register receipt, which doesn't meet the standard of archival paper because it smudges with repeated handling and deteriorates.

Similar electronic machines are used in 36 percent of the nation's counties, serving 38.4 percent of registered voters.

"If a vendor could come up with a system or add on to a system, then counties wouldn't have to replace their equipment," said Ms. Kuznik. "That's really unlikely to happen in the short period of time we have [before the 2008 election]."

The other 13 counties in Pennsylvania use optical scanners, where voters fill in bubbles on a card. Those ballots qualify as archival paper, so the machines don't need a separate printer.

"It is certainly [Mr. Holt's] intent that optical scanners would qualify," said Ms. Kuznik, who worked with the congressman's staff to develop the legislation.

Mr. Holt proposed additional changes to voting machine requirements after problems occurred in some areas that used electronic machines last fall. For example, machines used in one congressional race in Sarasota County, Fla., recorded 18,000 fewer votes than they should have and there was no verifiable paper trail to correct the error.

Nine Pennsylvania counties have what is considered the "gold standard" of optical scanners -- they have scanners at each precinct and a device known as a ballot marker to allow disabled people to vote. Those counties are Indiana, Huntingdon, Fulton, Franklin, Adams, Mifflin, Juniata, Snyder and Montour.

Four other counties -- Bedford, Lancaster, Susquehanna and Chester -- use other types of optical scanners that may need different access for the disabled or have some other shortcoming that could be corrected easily.

Some county election officials have been skeptical about optical scanners because they believe they could be expensive to operate in heavily populated areas due to the amount of paper and different ballots involved. Ms. Kuznik said her research has shown optical scanners are less expensive to use over the long haul because they last longer, have fewer problems, and don't require the special-order batteries used by electronic machines...

Local leaders cast votes for paper trail
By Bobby Kerlik
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Proposed changes in federal voting law that would require electronic voting machines to produce a paper trail gained support from local officials Monday.
Allegheny County Council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, and county Councilman John DeFazio, D-Shaler, joined U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, in announcing their support for pending legislation in Congress requiring paper trails and audits that test the paper results against the electronic tally.

"Before you leave the voting booth, you would be able to look at the paper ballot, and they would be available for recounts," Doyle said. "We would like to move quickly enough for the '08 presidential election."

In 2006, Allegheny County bought 4,700 iVotronic machines from Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software for nearly $12 million. The change from traditional lever machines was mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act.

Pennsylvania does not allow for voter-verified paper audit trails because of privacy concerns, but, Doyle said, this federal legislation would trump that.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said the voting machines the county bought last year can be upgraded, if necessary, to produce a paper record.

"We factored that (cost) in," Onorato said. "I'm for a paper trail."

The county locked in a price of $3 million to retrofit the machines with the capacity to print voters' results, said Kevin Evanto, Onorato's spokesman.

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act would require the machines be more user-friendly for disabled voters. For example, blind voters should get a printout in Braille to verify their votes, Doyle said.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., has nearly 200 co-sponsors and would provide $300 million to the states for the upgrades.

The following Post Gazette article deals in what ifs when it is apparent Holt's bill hasn't yet passed.

Holt's explanation of his bill

Pennsylvania organization, Vote PA, message board has also had a running discussion of the Holt legislation and its position on the Holt Bill HR 811.

New voting machines could be trashed
Altered U.S. law would require radical changes
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
By Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Allegheny and other counties may have to throw away millions of dollars worth of new voting machines unless the manufacturer can develop a printer that meets proposed changes in federal law.

The new Democratic leadership in Congress is pushing for a change in federal law that would require voting machines to have verifiable paper trails so that officials can check routinely for accuracy or hold a recount if there are problems with vote totals.

If the change is approved, election officials across the country could face the same type of mad scramble next year that they had in 2006 to have approved machines in place in time for the 2008 primary.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said at a news conference in Pittsburgh yesterday that he is among more than 190 co-sponsors of the bill and expects it to be acted on by early summer.

The proposed change calls for all voting machines to print the type of ballot that can be stored and counted by hand, if necessary, for several years. That type of printer currently isn't available for the touch-screen machines purchased last year by Allegheny and six other counties in Western Pennsylvania and may not be available for any other type of voting machine.

"The bill right now requires a printer with archival paper. As of right now, I don't know of any system that has archival paper," said Regis Young, director of elections in Butler County.

"I hope that doesn't mean we have to scrap what we have."

Butler purchased 490 iVotronic machines from Nebraska-based Electronic Systems & Software for $1.3 million last year, about $400,000 of it local money. In Allegheny County, a $12 million federal grant under the Help America Vote Act covered the cost of 4,600 touch-screen machines.

The machines also were used for the first time last year in Beaver, Cambria, Greene, Mercer and Westmoreland counties.

Nationally, the federal government made $3 billion available last year to help counties buy new machines. Some settled on touch screens and others on optical scanners, where voters fill in bubbles with a pencil to cast their votes. None of them has the type of printer proposed under the House bill.

Mr. Doyle, who appeared at the news conference with Allegheny County Councilmen Rich Fitzgerald and John DeFazio, said the federal government may have moved too quickly last year when it allowed new machines without paper trails. There were a variety of problems across the country, including in Sarasota County, Fla., where an iVotronic system undercounted votes in a congressional race by 18,000.

"I think one of the things we're saying is we've learned," said Mr. Doyle. "This [proposed change] is an indication there were some glitches. We didn't get this to where we want to be."

The bill would provide $300 million to help counties retrofit or replace machines to meet the new standards.

Different article

New voting machines obsolete?
Election bill will require paper trail
By Tom Victoria
Eagle Staff Writer

H.R. 811: The Voter Confidence & Increased Accessibility Act
Q: What are the bill’s fundamental requirements?

A: -- The bill:
• Requires a voter verified paper ballot for every vote cast
• Requires routine random audits by hand count of the paper ballots in 3% of the precincts in every federal race, unless the race is very close, in which case the percentage of precincts required to be audited would be higher; allows states to use alternative mechanisms, if determined to be equally effective and transparent
• Establishes an Independent State Audit Board to administer the audits (but would allow the Audit Board to utilize the existing election administration personnel to carry them out). Authorizes such funds as may be necessary to cover the reasonable costs of the audits.
• Mandates that the entire process of conducting the audits be publicly observable
• Enhances the accessibility requirements of the Help America Vote Act by:
o requiring not just that voting systems be equipped for individuals with disabilities, but that the entire process of ballot verification and casting be equipped for individuals with disabilities;
o requiring that all voters be able to verify the contents of their paper ballots; and
o explicitly applying the language access requirements of the Voting Rights Act not just to the voting systems used but also to the paper ballots required by the bill.
• Provides, as a “Manual Audit Capacity” requirement, that the voter verified paper ballots “shall be the true and correct record of the votes cast and shall be used as the official ballots for purposes of any recount or audit”
• Prohibits the use of undisclosed software and wireless devices in voting systems, and prohibits connecting devices upon which votes are cast to the Internet.
• Mandates an arms-length relationship between voting system vendors and test labs, and publication of test results
• Establishes additional security requirements that manufacturers and election officials must meet with respect to voting systems and supplies, including maintaining and documenting secure chain of custody
• Authorizes $300 million to fund the requirements for durable paper ballots and accessible ballot verification mechanisms, and allows the funds to be used for reimbursements to states that already met the requirements and, if a jurisdiction chooses to do this, to replace systems even if purchased with HAVA funds
• Authorizes $1 million in funding for the study of improved methods by which the disabled and those with language assistance needs can create and verify voter verified paper ballots.

Q: Does the bill ban direct recording electronic (DREs) voting machines?

A: No. The bill bans voting systems that do not produce or require the use of a durable voter-verified paper ballot that is created by or made available for inspection and verification before the voter’s vote is cast and counted. Voter-verified paper ballots may be made by hand or created through the use of an assistive device (such as a ballot marking device or a DRE). Assistive devices are necessary to facilitate language access and access for the disabled. Under the bill, all such “voter-verified paper ballots” are treated as the vote of record in recounts and audits. That is, in the first instance, software counts produced by optical scan machines and electronic voting machines are permissible; however, because either is subject to error, neither can be certified without audit. Therefore, in recounts and audits, the voter verified paper ballots themselves (and not a software translation of them) must be counted by hand...

Q: What is the relationship between usage of the term “paper ballot” and requests for a “DRE ban?”

A: -- There is some confusion. Some activists are insisting upon the use of the term “paper ballot” (which H.R. 811 does use) and some are simply requesting a “DRE ban” (which HR 811 does not do).

Some, however, are arguing that using the term “paper ballot” should not be applied to DRE print-outs, because it gives “false” gravitas to something made by a machine vs. something marked by hand. Of course, thousands of voters require the assistance of a machine to create a paper ballot, and it would be inappropriate to use different terminology to refer to a “hand marked” ballot than is used to refer to a “machine-marked” or “machine printed” ballot, as the ballots of the able-bodied and those not seeking language assistance would come to be treated differently under the law.

Whether DREs are banned or not, the term “paper ballot” must apply to any machine-marked or machine-printed ballot, just the same as it applies to a hand-marked ballot, so that the “paper ballots” of all voters are treated the same.

Q: How do requests for a “DRE ban” relate to H.R. 811?

A: -- H.R. 811 does not ban DREs, nor does it require DREs. It removes the problem presented by unauditable DREs. If DREs were banned, the other requirements of H.R. 811 – the paper ballot requirement, the audit requirements, the security requirements, etc., all would remain. H.R. 811 establishes the principle of auditability that must be observed in every federal election, but H.R. 811 does not specify or certify individual equipment, systems or designs for achieving the principle. It requires only that whatever system is provided for the voter requires the use of durable paper ballots and must be fully accessible to individuals with disabilities.

League Women Voters
H.R. 811, introduced by Representative Rush Holt (D NJ)

The legislation requires that all voting equipment produce a paper ballot that can be verified by the voter and that serves as the official ballot in any recount or audit. As a federal requirement, it mandates that each state set up special audit boards separate from existing voting administration systems and requires that they carryout an audit of each federal election by sampling select precincts for discrepancies between electronic vote counts and hand counts of the paper ballots. Other requirements are added for voting systems as well. The effective date of the legislation requires compliance before the 2008 election. Three hundred million dollars is authorized.

A section-by-section description follows:

Section 2. Voter-Verifiable Permanent Paper Ballots

Paper Ballots
1) All voting systems must provide an “individual voter-verified paper ballot” for inspection and verification by the voter before the vote is cast and counted.
2) The voting system must give the voter an opportunity to correct any error “made by the system” in the permanent paper ballot.
3) The voting system must not allow the paper ballot to be linked to a voter after it is cast.
4) The permanent paper ballot is the “true and correct” record of the vote in the event of any “inconsistencies or irregularities” between electronic tallies and hand counts.
5) The permanent paper ballot must be used as the “official” ballot for any recount or audit.

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