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Election Forum: Election Integrity vs. HR 550

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While the invitation to send precise legislative wording to Michelle (Congressman Rush Holt's chief aide on election integrity matters, Michelle Mulder) certainly sounds like an open door, before any of us invests too much energy in legislative nuance it should be understood that the door may be open a crack but certainly not wide enough to let in anything close to what Bev(Bev Harris of and most of us in "that camp" have in mind.

It is clear that the political will does not exist in Congress to acknowledge that HAVA and its carrot-and-stick rush to DREs was an abominable mistake and one that needs to be pulled out by its very rotten roots. Rather--brushing aside the apparently overblown alarums that "our democracy depends on this"--the politics-as-usual stance is that the DREs are here to stay because, well because they're here, and no one in Washington apparently possesses the political chutzpah to say to a nation of angry and confused election administrators "we put you to a lot of trouble and cost you some money but it was our bad and we need to start again." It is a lot easier to stick on some band-aids, buy some time, and hope the whole thing goes away or blows up on someone else's watch.

The bottom line seems to me that Steny Hoyer--a proud co-parent of HAVA and probably the most powerful person in Congress--may just accept a few tweaks, but certainly no drastic rewrite. Holt knows this; hell, even Kucinich knows this. I suppose the argument could be made to the new Majority Leader that if he hopes to spend more than a couple of years in his new digs HAVA and DREs are something it would behoove him to take a fresh look at, but apparently the powerful evidence that we have brought forward of a major shift of votes (net 3 million) to the GOP in E2006 (most likely calibrated too early, when the memory cards had to ship, to cover the events of October and the dramatically widened Democratic margin--see and the expanding capacity to rig future elections has fallen on ears deafened by the popping of champagne corks.

So the only things really on the table are how to get the DREs to print something auditable (you think DREs cause long lines, wait till the printers start jamming, and take three guesses as to where they'll start jamming) and how many precincts to audit. The odds of HR 550 v.2007 looking remotely like anything Bev could support are slim to none, so let's not kid ourselves about the niceties of the process. We're being told that the DREs have to stay just like a bad weapons system or a useless military base. Except the political will has somehow been found to close useless bases and junk bad weapons systems. It generally requires spending money--giving something else of value to that poor defense contractor or Congressman to ease the pain.

Funds could be found (Uncle Sam has a no-limit line of credit these days) to pay ballot counters or purchase Opscans (far cheaper and more efficient than DREs, with drastically lower maintenance costs and far longer shelf-life) and VotePads so at least we could have a paper ballot of record, which could then be verified through a handcount sample that would become part of the Election Night protocol and ritual, as we have proposed. Two weeks worth of our little experiment with democracy in Iraq would pay for the whole thing, our little experiment with democracy in the United States.

Neither the vendors' lobby nor Jim Dickson (speaking ostensibly for the disabled but funded to promote the agenda of the vendors) are strong enough to keep the DREs in place against all dangers and all common sense. So accommodating the DREs would have to be chalked up to saving political face at the expense of our nation's fate. This is not something you can reasonably expect much of the Election Integrity movement to hold their noses and get behind.

We of course sympathize with the extreme plight of paperless venues. FL 13 (Jennings) would appear to be a classic example of a situation in which "if we only had some paper. . ." But for every FL 13 there is an NM 1 (Madrid), where a recount was possible but foregone because it was "too expensive and wouldn't guarantee reversing the results." The either-or choice being presented (you can save the paperless venues from a fate worse than death only if you're willing to condemn the democracy as a whole to death) strikes many of us as cynical and extortionate. It is not likely to win much support.

I have long cautioned that Congress was a poor place to look for serious electoral reform ("if it works, it won't pass; if it passes, it won't work") and I don't believe that the shift in party control, particularly with Hoyer at the helm, does much if anything to change this equation. I expect that when the dust settles HR 550 v.2007 will probably pass (and be signed with fanfare) without the support of, and in fact in the face of vociferous opposition from, most of the Election Integrity community. We are on the outside looking in on this one. I believe that in order to get a broad EI endorsement the proposal will have to, at the very least, phase out DREs (quickly). I'm pretty sure that's the bottom line and we can save ourselves a lot of trouble if we get there without too much of a song and dance. At least let's dispense with the charade that the door is open, when we know that what we see as essential is still off the table. There may be a few more crumbs on the table, but as long as there's no going back from the cynical HAVA fait accompli of DREs, it still looks like crumbs to most of us.
--Jonathan Simon
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Jonathan Simon is author of "CODE RED: Computerized Elections and The War on American Democracy" and was executive director of Election Defense Alliance from 2006-16.

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