Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) jointly introduced on March 10 legislation that updates Rush Holt's (D-NJ) H.R. 2239, and coordinates Senate efforts to move this legislation forward.
Senator Graham had previously introduced S. 1980, a companion bill to Holt's H.R. 2239. Senator Clinton had proposed S. 1986, legislation which did not explicitly require voter-verified paper records.
David Dill of VerifiedVoting.org had claimed that progress on Holt's legislation had been held up pending a clearer view of which Senate version would gain the most support. Clinton and Graham's joint introduction of a new version should help move things forward.
(Their legislation is tentatively titled "The Restore Elector Confidence in Our Representative Democracy Act (RECORD Act). The only reason it took so long for Senators Clinton and Graham to get together on this issue is the time it took to come up with a clever acronym. :-))
The bill is not on Thomas yet, but Senator Clinton's office provided me with a summary. Here are the key provisions:
- Requires all voting systems to produce a voter-verified paper record for use in manual audits.
- Machines would print a receipt that each voter could verify as accurate and deposit into a lockbox for later use in a recount.
- Bans the use of undisclosed software and wireless communications devices in voting systems.
- Jurisdictions may use a paper system as an interim measure at federal expense if they feel their new computer systems may not be able to meet this deadline.
Importantly, the legislation also provides (at least some) federal funding for these provisions.
This looks like great progress. I am especially pleased with the acceleration of the deadline to November 2004, and the provision which would allow jurisdictions to use paper ballots as an interim measure rather than unproven computer systems. This should help relieve the pressure of the rush towards electronic systems that are flawed, as has been written extensively about.
Personally, I'd like to see a requirement of manual audits of a statistically significant portion of ballots in all jurisdictions. This is probably a very expensive proposition, but it's the only way I see to verify that an electronic system works as advertised. Maybe the law can provide for a way for interested parties to pay for an audit if election officials refuse to pay.
The political process is always one of compromise, which is a good thing. It usually ensures that progress is made in small steps. People in government should first do no harm, then act in the public interest, stepping as lightly as possible to avoid unintended consequences. We see what happens when people act precipitously, as they did after September 11th. It will probably take years to correct some of the imbalances created since then.
All in all, on the issue of ensuring that every vote is properly cast and counted, this joint bill seems like a good step forward. Given the emphasis on the November 2004 election, my guess is that it will be politicized and deferred until the next session. I hope not, and I am certainly not an experienced political observer, so I hope I'm wrong. If there are any Republicans out there following this issue, please act now to ensure it isn't your candidate who is harmed by a faulty system in November! This is not a partisan issue -- technology failures can harm any candidate or party. So take action.
Otherwise, I fear this November election will be decided by the courts, again.