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Crippling Costs of HR 811 Leave States Exposed and Defenseless

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Big ticket items unaccounted for in the HR811 technoelection bill

Executive Summary

HR811 is being sold to the American people as a "paper trail" bill. But 811 (aka the Holt Bill) is nothing more than an e-voting vendor's dream. This bill cements the use of high tech, low democracy, equipment in our voting systems, protects the "rights" of private corporate interests to "count" our votes using proprietary, trade secret software, so that only they and the White House know how or if our votes are being counted at all.

HR811 , of which NH Congressman Paul Hodes is a sponsor, also has several big ticket items that have not been adequately budgeted for in its $1BIL appropriation. The costs of this bill to NH property tax payers will be unacceptably high, taking money from our cities and towns that could be used for other, more important things, rather than to support an e-voting industry that has proven itself time and again to be corrupt, and which, in any reasonable analysis, has no place in the running of democratic elections.

These costs are defined in detail below, but the summary is found here.

Removal of Safe Harbor

Wikipedia defines safe harbor as

"a provision of a statute or a regulation that reduces or eliminates a party's liability under the law, on the condition that the party performed its actions in good faith. Legislators include safe-harbor provisions to protect legitimate or excusable violations. An example of safe harbor is performance of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment by a property purchasor: thus effecting due dilligence and a "safe harbor" outcome if future contamination is found caused by a prior owner."

HR811, with its broad reaching and complex mandates for our state election systems, does not include any safe harbor language for its mandates. Unlike the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which it seeks to amend, the Holt Bill does not include a state planning process by which states can interpret the bill's requirements. Additionally, it broadens citizen's rights to sue a state for noncompliance.

Some folks may think this is a good thing, that we should be able to sue the pants off any electoral jurisdiction we feel is in violation of the law.

But the cost of lawsuits in electoral challenges is quite high both financially and in the incalculable costs to our democracy, as we all saw in Florida's 2000 presidential election.

HR811 directs states to comply with its requirements, while simultaneously granting the Executive branch broad oversight, removing necessary checks and balances by centralizing control in the Executive branch, and further complicating and compromising states' ability to administer independent and fair elections, and further raising the risk of legal interventions caused by differences of interpretation for compliance.

The lack of safe harbor applies to every provision in the bill, the most significant of which are listed below.

  • Executive Commission is the authority defining what constitutes a federally compliant voting system and accessible voting system , and its definition is quite far reaching
  • States' only chance for "safe harbor" is to comply with The Commission voting system standards
  • Compliance with The Commission standards is virtually impossible and cost prohibitive
  • Mandate for a new ballot text read back technology that is untested, uncertified, and most likely nonexistent
  • New responsibility for states to administer costly voting system certification function
  • Chain of custody procedures and documentation
  • New responsibility for states to administer costly auditing and reporting function

New Added Step in the Voting Process

With the new mandated read-back technology ("convert ballot selections into accessible form"), this technoelection bill integrates one of the higher cost requirements from The Commission's VVSG I: ballot text read back. This will have the following costs and impact:

  • Increased administration and software configuration and testing workloads between the primary and the general elections
  • Increased ballot configuration and software complexity, increased costs both in configuration and election management (training, implementation, etc.)
  • Possibly nonexistent technology to meet requirement
  • Possible false claims that existing technology can meet requirement
  • Conservative estimate of at least $1.5 BIL in the first year alone for states to meet this single requirement. (In 2010 costs will increase as equipment needs to be updated to meet new executive commission guidelines)

Voting Machine Certification Requirements

HR811 inserts a new state function by requiring states to manage voting system certification. While some states currently have a process in place, HR811 makes the process more complicated due to its mandates for complex new technology and the prohibition to use machines with recent fixes unless they have been completely recertified.

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