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Response to Avi Rubin's Support for Holt HR 811

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Black Box Voting said...

I think you mischaracterize what "the primary concern" of others is. You characterize yourself as a "top expert," but readers should know that your
expertise is only in one area: computer security. You do not possess any more expertise in constitutional law, audit design, or the legislative process than
anyone else, and thus one would hope that you would qualify your claim to expertise accordingly.

Here are some staggeringly large problems with the Holt Bill that you overlooked:

1. By making the EAC permanent, under the appointment of the White House, this bill fundamentally changes the checks and balances of our system of government
in an extraordinarily dangerous way.

2. This bill contains a billion-dollar unfunded mandate for "text converters." My organization, Black Box Voting, would love to obtain the budget worksheet
for how Holt's office concluded that 185,000 $7,000-machines with text conversion properties can be purchased for $300 million, but since the US
Congress made itself EXEMPT from the Freedom of Information Act when it passed that act, putting only the Executive Branch under it, none of us can ever learn what transpired between "top experts" and the U.S. Congress in crafting this bizarre unfunded mandate.

3. It's fascinating that the audits in the bill are NOT designed to make sure the right candidate is put in office (Holt's office's own words), but just to
provide "confidence" and find random errors. Even Holt's office admits that the audits have less than a 50% chance of catching fraud. Holt's office certainly
were provided with models for more robust audits, but chose to ignore them.

4. And speaking of unfunded mandates, the Holt Bill prohibits voting machines that contain undisclosed code -- and includes firmware (software housed on
chips) in this requirement. That would effectively ban every voting machine in America (perhaps not a bad thing...) but, again, provides no funding for such a radical move.

It isn't up to the manufacturers, of course, to disclose all that code -- many of the chips containing firmware are made by third parties, so the voting machine vendors have no authority to release the source code -- in fact, they don't even have it in their possession, and in some cases it is in the custody only of companies in Asia.

I was very surprised to see that you were involved in writing this bill, since the absolute prohibition against any undisclosed firmware, and the resulting
unlegislatable complications due to such firmware being owned by foreign companies, certainly IS in your area of expertise.

But carry on. As will the dozens of election integrity groups, election officials, and disability rights organizations that are AGAINST this bill.

here is Avi Rubin's piece on HR 811 from his blog:

2/18/2007 10:03 AM

Black Box Voting said...
Two arguments:

(1) The experts know best
(2) It's "good enough", something is better than nothing, don't expect it to be perfect

From Appendix F, government propaganda manual:

(1) Appeal to Authority. Appeals to authority cite prominent figures that support a position, idea, argument, or course of action.

(2) Least of Evils - This technique acknowledges that the course of action being taken is perhaps undesirable, however, any alternative course of action would result in a worse outcome.

It's simply not true that "something is better than nothing" if that something is harmful to the fundamental checks and balances in our system of government, and if that something contains $1 billion (minimum) to $5 billion (if you follows the undisclosed code problem) in unfunded mandates that counties cannot afford -- and doesn't solve the problem anyway.

Three things not addressed in the Holt Bill:

1) Citizen rights -- it instead turns all auditing rights over to governmental agencies who in some cases will be asked to audit themselves

2) Right of citizen access to ANY information to allow citizens to authenticate elections

3) Consequences or meaningful deterrents - The bill also does not address consequences for public officials who flaunt the law, and those of us working
on the front lines see that every day, and realize that any law passed will have no teeth if it doesn't address CITIZEN remedies and consequences.

Yes, the Holt Bill does give the right to sue, but we already have the right to sue in many cases, such as refusal of officials to turn over public records,
and refusal of public officials to allow citizens to observe. Right to sue means, if you the citizen fork out $25,000 (at least) for litigation, a year or
so later you MIGHT be told you were correct, the public official MIGHT be told to change their behavior, but there are generally no punitive consequences -- no real deterrents -- to prevent them from saying "so sue me" the next time.
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Bev Harris is executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc. an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections.
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