With computerized voting machines, just like with ATMs, we can not trust a count that we can not see.
The Holt bill says computerized, concealed vote counting should be the law of the land. It says it is okay if we don't openly count our votes on election night as long as we can do some spot checks (erroneously called "audits" in the bill) on the count after the election is all over.
Does this make sense?
Let's think back to the bank teller example once again:
1. Withdraw $10K in cash from your bank, but do not count it when the teller hands it to you. Have the teller give you your cash in a sealed, black envelope with a receipt taped to the front, telling you how much money you were just given.
2. Go home. Lock the envelope in your safe, under armed guard if you like. Wait a few days.
3. Take out the envelope and do a scientifically rigorous audit of 3%-10% of the cash (just like the audit required in the Holt bill)
4. Go back to the bank a few days later.
5. Announce to the bank that, based on your totally scientific audit, you did not in fact receive $10,000 in cash from the bank teller, but instead you received a five percent shortfall, $9,500 according to your statistical calculations. Bring your armed guard and your statisticians to testify on your behalf.
The result of your honest, good faith audit: Your "audit" of the cash count will either be laughed out of the bank, or they will call the FBI and you and your armed guard will be arrested for conspiracy to defraud the bank.
Arrested! Holt's approach is so deficient for democracy it risks criminality. There is no more excuse for not counting your votes openly on election night than there is for not counting your cash at the bank teller's window.
Lots of very smart, well-intentioned folks are pushing the Holt bill and its audits because they think it makes the best of a bad situation. Our elections are broken and we have to fix them, so they look to the only congressional representative (a science and technology expert) on Capital Hill putting forth his idea. But is it a good idea?
As you can see, audits won't work unless the bank wants it to work. Or, with elections, unless the powers that be want it to work.
We already know that post-election challenges, audits, or recounts, are incredibly difficult and expensive to secure, and history has shown us in Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court's proven willingness and ability to simply shut down post-election remedies like hand recounts. The partial audit defined by Holt--exactly the audit requested by Gore in Florida and deemed illegal by the US Supreme Court--would raise the same legal challenges we saw in the 2000 presidential election.
History has shown us that election audits fail the most important test of all: There is no real interest among the powers that be in wanting these kinds of audits to work.
Look to Minnesota's recent Senatorial election with its expensive and relentless legal challenges. Our system of governance simply does not have the will, stamina, or time to depend on post-election counts to determine the winner of an election. And why should it? That's why we have elections.