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Life Arts    H2'ed 2/3/10

BlackBoxVoting's Bev Harris Tackles the Holt Bill

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Bev Harris is an investigative journalist and founder of non-partisan, election watchdog Welcome back to OpEdNews, Bev. The Election Integrity [EI] community is once more abuzz regarding Rep. Holt's proposed election legislation, the "Voter Confidence Act." Why is this such a constant lightning rod for people who care about election integrity?

The Holt Bill has literally split the election reform community into two camps, and that may turn out to be a good thing. On the one side are those of us who see current US election processes as a violation of human rights. On the other side are advocates willing to forego the right to public elections if they can just tweak the way concealed election processes are administered. I say this could turn out to be a good thing, because it forces us to articulate the end goal.

I've been told that describing concealed election processes as "human rights violations" is too strong. Let me explain why this is an appropriate term:

Freedom is a human right. In order to have freedom, the people must be able to choose their own governance. To choose our own governance, we must have public elections. The key word here is "public" -- simply HAVING elections does not mean you get to choose your governance. If those who hold power huddle in a back room behind closed doors to count your votes and then come out and announce what they claim to be the results, these are not public elections. If votes are counted by concealed electronic processes controlled by insiders, these are not public elections.

If you are subjected to a system which is ultimately controlled by concealed processes you are not really free, because you cannot displace your governors unless a handful of insiders wish to allow it. Such processes violate your human rights. Not just civil rights. Not just voting rights. Your right to freedom is a highest level right, and as stated in our Declaration of Independence, "an inalienable right, endowed by our creator."

I mentioned that the Holt Bill has split the election reform community into two camps. The Holt Bill sanctions and further legitimizes the concept of holding elections in a way that conceals an essential step -- the counting of the vote -- from the public. The bill attempts to replace your right to see and authenticate the counting of ALL the votes with, instead, a process whereby not you, but a set of chosen persons gets to look at some, but not all of the votes, and only in a limited way, easily circumvented by insiders. Nothing in the bill recognizes the public right to look at anything, except to perhaps stand behind a rope with a pair of binoculars watching the experts look at a small set of ballots -- not necessarily even the real ballots.

In the one camp are those of us who see the problem with current election processes as the removal of "public" from public elections -- a human rights issue. In the other camp are those who will accept concealment of key processes in order to get a paper trail and the limited spot check of concealed counts.

But aren't a paper trial and a spot check a step in the right direction?

Paper ballots are going to be a necessary part of restoring public elections. Spot checks after the fact? Probably not. If the public can see and authenticate EVERY essential step, spot checks by experts may be a nice additional service, but they are not a necessary part of restoring public right to know. The Holt Bill offers only a portion of an audit, and even that is given defined limitations.

Incremental reform is only desirable if it gets us closer to the end goal. And to do that, we need to articulate what the end goal is. The end goal is not to require a lot of pieces of paper, most of which no human can ever look at. The end goal is the restoration of public elections -- in other words, for members of the public to be able to see and authenticate every essential step in the election, without need for special expertise.

If you don't explicitly acknowledge the core issue, which is restoration of public elections, marginal reforms actually preserve and legitimize the obstruction of our rights.

And for those who don't even believe the public HAS a right to see and authenticate every essential step ... well honey, tell me your name. Perhaps it's time to start taking roll for democracy.

You have opened up a can of worms here, Bev. I don't know where to start. When you say that observers might be able to watch experts count some votes but they might not even be the real ballots, what do you mean by that?

The Holt Bill purports to "audit" ballots by giving warning ahead of the spot check as to which precincts will be counted. The Holt Bill never utters one word about chain of custody; doesn't even mention methodology to make improve the odds that the ballots counted are the actual ballots. The Holt Bill even omits any mention of accounting for the blank ballots before doing the pre-announced spot check.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that the ballots counted in a spot check will be the same ballots that were placed in the ballot box on Election Day. What we can expect is to see ballots swapped out to make sure they match. This is not some pie-in-the-sky conspiracy theory -- with so much at stake, do we really think that no one will do this?

In Cuyahoga County Ohio for the 2004 presidential recount, two elections workers were convicted of tampering with the recount ballots before the count. In New Hampshire's recount of the 2008 presidential primary, ballots in SEALED metal ballot boxes showed up at the recount in ballot boxes for a different location. In a Maine election, the chief of staff for the Maine Speaker of the House was caught red-handed in the ballot vault swapping ballots.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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