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The Flaws that Need Fixing in Holt's HR811

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Critical changes are needed to Holt HR811

The new election integrity bill by Rush Holt is a big improvement over his prior HR550, but needs to be amended before being passed.

1. LOOPHOLE ALLOWING MANUAL AUDITS TO BE BYPASSED. Section 327 in HR811 permits states to avoid any manual audits when conducting state recounts. Many state recounts involve no manual counts of voter-verified paper ballots, or involve fewer manual counts than HR811 requires or, like Utah, involve limited manual counts but never compare the manual counts with the electronic tallies used to count votes on the central tabulator. This exemption permits states to avoid independent audits altogether by redefining when they'll do "recounts". Independent audits should always be required, no matter whether election officials do recounts or not.

2. NO RECOGNITION OF CITIZEN RIGHT TO OVERSIGHT. HR811 provisions do not require timely citizen or candidate access to election records necessary to verify electoral integrity, voter roll accuracy, or manual audits. Some states, like Utah, prohibit access to all election records, even records that the National Voting Rights Act requires to be publicly available; and other states only release election records long after election results are made official. Candidates have nothing to judge the integrity of their election outcomes with, when access to election records is lacking.

3. UNDER-FUNDED: $300 million is not enough to fund the purchase of precinct-based op-scan machines and ballot printers for voters with disabilities and non-English-language voters, for all precincts who currently have voting machines which lack paper ballots. (although the amount may be enough to purchase new machines for jurisdictions with paperless DREs like MD, GA, FL,..) If there are approximately 185,000 U.S. polling places, and even if only approximately one-third of them are defined as remedial and it costs $10,000 per polling location for a ballot printer and op-scan device, then it would cost approximately $650 million to replace all the electronic ballot voting systems which currently do not cast votes on archival quality paper ballots, are not fully auditable, and violate voter anonymity. It also seems to require text conversion technology in every polling place for voters with disabilities to independently verify their ballots. It can cost up to $7000 per machine.

4. INSUFFICIENT AUDIT AMOUNTS: Fans of audit solutions recognize that HR811 audit amounts (10% audits for races with margins under 1%, 5% audits for races with margins between 1% and less than 2%, and 3% audits for races with margins 2% or greater) are inadequate. These numbers were pulled out of thin air, often giving under 50% chance for detecting even one vote corrupt vote count (count with error) in cases where just enough vote counts are corrupt to alter U.S. House outcomes. (I need to know the number of precincts in all US House districts to do a thorough analysis of this.)

5. UNDER-QUALIFIED COMPOSITION OF STATE AUDIT BOARDS: HR811 proposes a composition for state audit board members that does not allow much-needed mathematicians, computer scientists, election activists, and gaming experts to be on the election audit boards, and does not allow smaller party members of the Green, Libertarian, Constitution, or other small parties to be on the state audit boards. The mathematics of election audits is quite different than in other industries and can be quite complex due to the variations in the margins between candidates, size variation in the numbers of ballots in each vote count, and other factors.

6. ALLOWS LOSS OF SECRET SECURE BALLOTS for the Military voters, who are "allowed" to vote via email.

7. LOOPHOLE ALLOWS MACHINE COUNTS TO SUPERCEDE VOTER VERIFIED PAPER when fuzzily described circumstances arise. Legislation should instead say that:

In the event of any inconsistencies or irregularities between any electronic records and the voter-verifiable paper records, the paper records shall be the true and correct record of the votes cast, except in the case where evidence exists that indicates that the paper record has been tampered with or damaged, in which case, if an outcome is in question, then a court will decide.

8. LOOPHOLE ALLOWS INTERNET CONNECTIONS for central tabulators and ballot definition software. This is unnecessary since portable media can be used to transfer vote counts from the central tabulator or to the ballot programming devices.

9. NEGLECTS TO OUTLAW ELECTRONIC POLL BOOKS. Having paper ballots for voters in case of power failure or electronic failure does little good if there are electronic poll books. Voters can be disenfranchised, and have been disenfranchised in both MD and CO due to the use of electronic poll books.

10. LOOPHOLE ALLOWS AUDITS TO BE GAMED: Vote miscounts could be hidden and have a higher chance to escape detection in two or more large-size counts of absentee, mail-in, overseas, or military ballots. Must change and to or  in HR811 language, or simply require that all mail-in ballots are to be counted in batches of the same size as a median-sized precinct.

11. MAKES PERMANENT THE ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION (EAC) as an Executive Commission. Because it is appointed by the President as an agency with authority over federal elections there is a clear conflict of interest. The EAC duties, as described on their website and listed below in lower case, can be better delegated as follows (in CAPS):
• Generate technical guidance on the administration of federal elections. HAND OVER TO NIST & STANDARDS BOARD
• Produce voluntary voting systems guidelines. HAND OVER TO NIST & STANDARDS BOARD
• Research and report on matters that affect the administration of federal elections. HAND OVER TO STANDARDS BOARD & CITIZENS GROUP
• Otherwise provide information and guidance with respect to laws, procedures, and technologies affecting the administration of Federal elections. HAND OVER TO STANDARDS BOARD & CITIZENS GROUP
• Administer payments to States to meet HAVA requirements. HAND OVER TO GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
• Provide grants for election technology development and for pilot programs to test election technology. ELIMINATE THIS FUNCTION.
• Manage funds targeted to certain programs designed to encourage youth participation in elections. HAND OVER TO FEC
• Develop a national program for the testing, certification, and decertification of voting systems. HAND OVER TO NIST & STANDARDS BOARD
• Maintain the national mail voter registration form that was developed in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), report to Congress every two years on the impact of the NVRA on the administration of federal elections, and provide information to States on their responsibilities under that law. HAND OVER TO FEC
• Audit persons who received federal funds authorized by HAVA from the General Services Administration or the Election Assistance Commission. HAND OVER TO GAO
• Submit an annual report to Congress describing EAC activities for the previous fiscal year. HAND OVER AS APPROPRIATE TO ENTITIES PICKING UP FUNCTIONS AS DESCRIBED ABOVE

I want to thank Bev Harris, Brad Friedman, Nancy Tobi, and Paul Lehto for pointing a few of these flaws out to me. I re-read HR811 after several flaws were pointed out to me that I did not notice on my first reading.

Holt's HR811 is a big improvement over HR550 because it takes away the power to audit from the Election Assistance "Commission"; increased the number of manual counts; requires more manual counts when the margins between candidates is smaller; funds the replacement of voting systems without voter verified paper ballots; and requires archival weight ballots that protect privacy; and comes as close as is possible in federal legislation to requiring the replacement of all DRE machines; but it still has flaws that must be fixed prior to passage.

Click on bill and type in HR811 on thomas.loc.gov to read the bill for yourself.
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Founder and President of US Count Votes, dba The National Election Data Archive and volunteer for honest, accurately counted elections since 2003. Masters degree in mathematics with emphasis on computer science. Has written numerous academic and (more...)

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