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HR 811 (The Holt Bill): Let the debate begin

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There is a raging and often destructive debate among voting activists. The source of the discord is "The Holt Bill", a piece of federal election reform legislation named for its primary author, Democratic Congressman Rush Holt from the great state of New Jersey. The destructive nature of the exchanges among activists has led some of us who oppose the bill to propose, in the best of our American democratic traditions, a public debate on the merits of the bill.

We who oppose believe anything that stands to so dramatically transform, and possibly violate, the nature of American democracy deserves robust public debate, based on facts and principle.

Congress has already held its so-called public hearings on the bill, but those hearings were stacked with many pro-811 witnesses, and the few opponents of the legislation were not debating what we oppositional citizens believe are the real issues that need a good, public airing:

  • The bill violates state sovereignty and cements control over the nation's voting systems in the hands of four white house appointees.
  • The bill codifies into federal law the use of secret vote counting technologies in the United States of America.
  • The bill mandates impossible, ineffective and controversial audit and reporting requirements and timetables.
  • The bill confuses technology with democracy, embracing the tenets of the one over the other.
  • The bill furthers the misguided and undemocratic direction initiated with the Help America Vote Act that replaces observable voting with verifiable voting

Unfortunately, in what appears to be a desperate desire to keep the rhetoric flying and the facts suppressed from any public discourse, supporters of the bill have refused every offer for real public debate.

Some of the more vocal supporters of the bill state that if we opponents are questioning the confusing language of the bill, it must be that we are not as "intelligent" as they are. Sort of like the way a sales person for an exclusive item will look down his nose and tell you, "if you have to ask what it costs, you obviously can't afford it."

If we have to ask what this bill means to our democracy, we are obviously in the wrong shop.

I, for one, would like to see robust debate on the merits of this complex bill. For one thing, the principles of democracy are at stake.

The American people deserve to hear honest debate on if and how this proposed election reform supports the fundamental principles of American democracy without which our elections are nothing but a sham.

As well, the language of the 62 page bill is so dangerously ambiguous in so many critical areas, that we ought to expose the ambiguities to the light before HR811 becomes the law of the land and our elections are thrown to the courts to decide what means what.

And finally, public debate is called for because of the complex, often conflicting, and seemingly impossible and impractical requirements of the bill. These requirements are outrageously expensive, the costs of which will be borne in large part by American property taxpayers as the nation's towns, cities, and counties struggle to meet the bill's unfunded high tech mandates.

And a careful analysis of the bill's timelines, equations, and reporting requirements indicates they just don't seem to add up to anything that will actually work in the real world. This fundamental flaw in the bill puts every state in the nation at risk if it forces them to try to run legal elections when the law itself is unsupportable.

This is not the birthright of democracy the framers of the U.S. Constitution bequeathed us.

The Holt Bill, in its former incarnation as HR 550, languished in committee under the former Republican majority, and was never released to the full House for a vote. With the Democratic takeover, the bill resurfaced in its current incarnation, HR 811. Within days of the November 2006 victory, Dem leaders were predicting the swift passage of election reform. They were going to "own" the issue that had been stymied under the Republican rule.

Unfortunately, the new leadership was stuck holding the same moldy bag of election reform that had been decaying in the former Republican majority's pantry. And time was not kind to the Holt Bill. As it languished, its unpleasant odor wafted through the ranks of citizen activists, many of whom, one by one, began to experience an unmistakable squeamishness about the bill.

When HR 550 was whisked out of the pantry, washed down, spiced up, and placed on the table of the House Administration Committee in its new form as HR 811, many former supporters found they could no longer stomach the bill, even in its shiny new form. One might even say, especially in its shiny new form.

The ranks of ordinary citizens, who laboriously studied the bill and its implications, the nation's election officials, counties, legislators, and even the e-voting industry itself, uniformly rose in loud and raucous opposition to its passage.

HR 811 quickly became a disputed and controversial bill, left only with its primary supporters being well funded lobbying groups like Common Cause, MoveOn, TrueMajority, Verified Voting and VoteTrustUSA.

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Nancy is best known as a national leader in the voting rights movement for her seminal work exposing the dangers and fallacies in various election reform efforts past, present and future. She serves on the Board of Black Box Voting, and is (more...)
 

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Thank you, Nancy.It's worth asking why those i... by Joan Brunwasser on Monday, May 28, 2007 at 10:11:58 AM
 We need to, and the Founders directed us to,... by Paul Lehto on Monday, May 28, 2007 at 4:34:35 PM
 James Madison signed the Declaration of Inde... by Paul Lehto on Thursday, May 31, 2007 at 11:11:11 AM