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Halting Holt Thoughts

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Today I received an email from Doug Kellner, Co-Chair of the New York State Board of Elections, with his comments in response to Doug Lewis’s March 20, 2007 testimony regarding the Holt Bill. Doug Kellner’s comments were also posted at

The Lewis testimony can be found at Lately I’ve been spending a good deal of time thinking about who are these people who are my would-be allies, but support the Holt Bill, which I believe to be terribly damaging to our ability as a people to regain control over our democracy. Doug’s email came in the midst of my pondering. One particular comment, excerpted below, really moved me and provided me with needed insight:

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I thought that you might be interested in my comments on Doug Lewis’s testimony regarding the Holt Bill (HR 811)… The comments have generated considerable debate, generally agreeing that HR 811 needs revision, particularly among advocates of verified voting.


I am torn by my 14-year crusade to require a voter verifiable paper audit trail in all direct recording voting equipment and the new problems that would inevitably arise if HR 811 should be enacted in its current form.

That really struck me to think about what it must be like to have waged a battle for so long for something which may turn out not to be the solution you believed it would be. What strength it takes to struggle with oneself; how few people are willing to do that.

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A few weeks ago I went to a forum at Rutgers Law School and listened to computer scientist Ed Felten ( talk earnestly about the problems with DREs and how adding paper is better than not having paper, but it isn’t going to make the DRE secure. And yet he was supporting the Holt bill, still holding onto the machine with the paper and I thought, why? A couple of days after that I read that computer scientist Avi Rubin, who was traveling the same path Ed Felten was on, had testified about electronic voting and had changed his mind, rejecting DREs with paper as a solution. He wrote in his blog,,

Another member of the committee gave me the best opening I think I've ever had. He asked me if I thought it was possible to have a trustworthy and secure election using paperless DREs. I replied "no". He then said, "Why?" It was a question I was hoping for. I explained that a software only system, especially one as complex as a DRE where all of the voter input and vote tabulation takes place in a closed box, cannot possibly be audited. There is no way to know for sure that the totals produced by the machines at the end of the election correspond to the votes that were cast by the voters.

Finally, I was asked if I thought that a DRE with a paper trail was an adequate voting system. I replied that when I first studied the Diebold DRE in 2003, I felt that a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) provided enough assurance. But, I continued, after four years of studying the issue, I now believe that a DRE with a VVPAT is not a reasonable voting system.

The other day I heard Ralph Neas of People for the American Way (PFAW) being interviewed by RFK Jr.. PFAW is a main supporter of the Holt bill and as I listened I kept thinking, why are groups like PFAW and Common Cause and Moveon all supporting the Holt Bill when it is going to make the current situation even worse.


And then I thought about this from an article by Bruce O’Dell, Holt's HR 811, A Deceptive Boondoggle -- 10 Blunders to Fix,:


In fact, there is a fascinating study from 2001 (interestingly enough, published shortly before HAVA was enacted) which concluded that not only were hand-counted paper ballots the most accurate of all vote counting methods, measuring by residual vote rate, but that every single technological "innovation" of the last century - lever machines, punch cards, optical scan, DRE - actually measurably decreased the accuracy of the voting process. Their conclusion:

These results are a stark warning of how difficult it is to implement new voting technologies. People worked hard to develop these new technologies. Election officials carefully evaluated the systems, with increasing attentiveness over the last decade. The result: our best efforts applying computer technology have decreased the accuracy of elections, to the point where the true outcomes of many races are unknowable.

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We are a technological society. Technology has become part of our religion. And like other religious, some stop along the path to seek answers, to question, to revisit, while others just go on faith. It’s not my place to say what role critical thought and science should play in religion, but America is not supposed to be a religious society. It is time to revisit faith based voting. If a computer is counting your vote, there is simply no way for human beings to observe the count. If the count is being done by a machine- whether it’s a DRE or an OpScan- it is a secret count and we’re all going on faith that our vote was counted as cast. That’s not good enough for a country which was founded on a separation of church and state and whose founding documents jealously guard against the surrender of our rights. Our right to know that are votes were accurately counted is the right on which all others hinge. When we stop and think and question we see this:

(See Paul Lehto’s New York City Change To Optical Scan Elections: Not the answer, but getting closer).

It’s not easy to give up our machines, but what if it’s true that: “our best efforts applying computer technology have decreased the accuracy of elections, to the point where the true outcomes of many races are unknowable.” None of us should be willing to accept not knowing the outcomes of our elections because we choose machines over doing it ourselves. No one would voluntarily surrender the right of the people to control their ability to choose their representatives and yet, we hold onto our machines.

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