Internal debate for a young social movement
Posted Monday, February 19, 2007 to Bo Lipari's web log
HR 811, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, has created quite a bit of controversy within the national voting integrity movement. While there are several controversial areas in the bill, one of the key disagreements revolves around whether or not touch screen DREs should be banned. There are those in the movement who strongly maintain that the current version of HR811, which does not ban DREs, is the best legislation that we're going to get right now, and it would benefit states that currently have paperless DREs. And those on the other side argue equally firmly that adding VVPATs to DREs in a quest for reliable verification of the vote is a fool's errand, and not likely to accomplish much more than another round of taxpayer money being thrown at badly designed, untested DREs.
Passions are certainly running high right now, but while the nascent voting integrity movement hasn't seen this kind of internal debate before, there is nothing new under the sun. What we have here is an age old debate among reformers - do we work for everything we want and accept no less, or do we compromise with the powers that be, letting them define what is 'possible', in order to get at least a part of what we want? In any successful historical social movement, you find that both approaches are necessary. There is a group of advocates working from within the system, and a group of activists pushing the envelope from without. Ultimately, both elements are necessary for a successful movement.
Right now, as voting integrity advocates debate the Holt bill, there's a lot of harsh rhetoric and insults being tossed about on mail lists and blogs from both sides in the HR811 debate. Ironically, many of these same folks are simultaneously concerned about the growing 'split' in the voting integrity movement. Well, I've got news for you if your goal is keeping the movement together, insulting each other is not helpful - so cut it out.
I happen to agree with those who feel that HR811 has unacceptable shortcomings. I'll go into those reasons in a subsequent post. But to my friends and colleagues on the other side of the debate, let me say this - I respect your opinion, I believe you are as smart as I am and have analyzed the bill and reached a conclusion about how to respond based on your best assessment of the available facts. The fact that we have reached different conclusions doesn't bother me, because HR811 is only one event on the way to our common goal secure, accurate, and auditable elections.
We humans seem to have a natural inclination to believe that only we possess the ultimate truth, and those that disagree with us are fools, or worse. But if anything threatens this young voting integrity movement right now, it is this all too human attitude, not the fact that we disagree over a piece of legislation. It's important as we discuss this and other controversial issues in the future to keep in mind that it is possible, even necessary, for us to have disagreements about particulars while pursuing parallel paths towards the same ultimate goal.
reproduced with permission from Bo Lipari