Amended Holt Bill Reported Out of Committee

May 11, 2007

By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA

Congress Takes Important Step Towards Establishing Safeguards on the Use of Electronic Voting Systems

Rep. Rush Holt's Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007 has been reported favorably out of the Committee on House Administration and is headed to a floor vote. The bill that came out of committee reflected the work of the Elections Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), which held a series of hearings in March. Many of the concerns that had been raised by election officials, the Republican committee members, academics, and election integrity activists were addressed in the amendment in the form of a substitute that was submitted by Rep. Lofgren.

In the mark-up, two further amendments were passed: an amendment offered by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), that allows all voters the option of voting on a paper ballot, and an clerical amendment offered by Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-TX).

Responding to concern about the feasibility of widespread changes in voting system technology before the 2008 primaries, the effective date for the new requirements that would be mandated by the bill were changed from January 2008 to a bifurcated deadline. All jurisdictions that used any voting system the produced or required the use of a voter verified paper ballot in 2006 (including thermal reel-to-reel systems and accessible systems that used a paper ballot in any manner) will have until the first election in 2010 to meet new requirements for durability and accessible verification. However, jurisdictions that had no voter verified paper ballots at all in 2006 have until November 2008 to meet all of the requirements.

Significantly, the funding authorization for meeting the new requirements has been increased from $300 million to $1 billion. Additionally a specific ongoing authorization of $100 million annually for the conduct of post-election audits has been added. In the new version of the bill the requirement for the creation of Stat eAudit Boards has been removed and replaced with a requirement that the entity chosen by the State to conduct the audits satisfy the requirements of “independence” set forth in the GAO’s “Government Accounting Standards.”

Addressing a concern about the interaction of some state recount laws and the language of the introduced bill, Section 327 now requires that any pre-certification recount done instead of an audit be done by hand count of the paper ballots. It has been expanded to provide that if the recount is not a 100% count, that at least as many ballots be counted, the selection of those ballots be just as random, the recount be just as publicly observable, and the results be published, all as is required of audits. Additionally, audits must be conducted in the place where the ballots are stored and counted after the election, and in the presence of the ballot custodians.

The required audit percentages have been clarified to be a minimum and states are allowed to developed alternate audit protocols as long as they are deemed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to be equal to or superior to those established by the bill. Unopposed elections and elections in which the winning candidate receives 80% of the vote are not required to be audited.

The ban on Internet connections has been expanded to include, in addition to devices upon which votes are cast, devices upon which votes are tabulated and ballots are programmed. This will have the effect of prohibiting the connection of election management systems like Diebold’s GEMS or Sequoia’s WinEDS to he Internet.

The requirement that for disclosure of voting system software to any person has been replaced by a requirement that “election-dedicated voting technology” be released to qualified persons who sign non-disclosure agreements protecting intellectual property rights and trade secrets.

The extension of funding authorization for the Election Assistance Commission has been removed from the bill.

The bill still would require all voting systems to produce or require the use of a durable voter-verified paper ballot must be used or produced for every vote cast and to allow accessible verification of the paper ballot. Paper ballot is vote of record in all recounts and audits, as a check on electronic tallies except in cases where it can be demonstrated that the integrity of the paper ballot has been compromised. However, the amended bill provides that even if paper ballots have been demonstrated to have been compromised in numbers exceeding the margin of victory, “the electronic tally shall not be used as the exclusive basis for determining the official certified vote tally.”

The bill requires routine random manual audits in 3% of the precincts in all Federal elections, and 5% or 10% in very close races, but races in which the winning candidate received 80% of the vote need not be audited.

Increased public oversight and reporting of testing and certification would be required by the bill, including the establishment of an “arms-length” relationship between test labs and vendors, through the creation of an escrow account into the vendors pay test fees and from which the testing laboratories are paid.