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Debate with a Chair: Part II - Is a flawed bill better than no bill?

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Is a flawed bill better than no bill?


The "empty chair" is the faceless voice of quotes from high profile leaders in the election reform movement who have refused to publicly debate the sweeping changes in democracy that they are seeking. We have invited them to weigh in with their faces any time.

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There are two bills currently being pushed through the US Congress that will change the way elections are run in America. The voting rights community is split as to whether the proposed legislation will make things better, or kill our republic altogether. Below is a peek behind the scenes at the arguments among leaders about whether flawed election reform is better than none at all.


A mutation of what has been known as “The Holt Bill” called HR 811  – 62 pages long – is the first bill, with the second bill – S1487 (submitted by Diane Feinstein) the companion bill that must be reconciled with whatever the Holt Bill turns out to be in order to enact reform.

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In a nutshell: The current mutation of the Holt Bill provides for a paper trail (toilet paper roll-style records affixed to DRE voting machines) in 2008, requires more durable ballots in 2010, and requires a complex set of audits. It also cements and further empowers a concentration of power over elections under the White House, gives explicit federal sanction to trade secrets in vote counting, mandates an expensive “text conversion” device that does not yet exist which is  not fully funded, and removes “safe harbor” for states in a way that opens them up to unlimited, expensive, and destabilizing litigation.


The current version of the Feinstein Bill does nothing at all for 2008, concentrates power over elections under White House appointees, authorizes discriminatory practices for “distinct communities” (read: minority voting districts), and legislates trade secrecy, along with explicit provisions to enforce trade secrecy in voting systems.


Before the Holt and Feinstein bills can become law, they must be “reconciled” into a single Act which will change just about everything about how elections are run in America. Several organizations, including People for the American Way, Common Cause, MoveOn, Verified Voting, and VoteTrustUSA are pushing hard to pass the Holt Bill (which leads directly to the Feinstein Bill) right away!


Does this deserve a debate?

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We think so. The topic of this debate is whether we should accept the “flaws” (federally sanctioned secret software, concentration of electoral power under the White House, unfunded mandates, destabilizing and untested changes in procedures for certifying elections, alterations in legal terrain) for the benefits of having paper trails and an untested type of audit.


This is your country. Weigh in with what you think! Is it worth it? Is this even Constitutional? Here is  what some of the election reform leaders are saying, with proponents of the new legislation represented by empty chairs due to their unwillingness to debate:

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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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