Ready or Not, Voting Paper Trail Nears House Vote

H.R. 811 still leaves holes for vendors to skate by without source code testing.

The House of Representatives may vote as early as next week on legislation requiring a paper trail for electronic voting machines, according to a spokesman for bill sponsor Rush Holt, D-N.J. If successful in Congress, the bills provisions would take effect in time for the 2008 elections.

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (H.R. 811) would authorize more than $1 billion in grants for states to prepare permanent paper ballots for all federal elections. The bill would also provide $100 million annually for states to audit the paper ballots.

Holts bill was originally scheduled for a Sept. 7 House vote but the legislation was pulled from the agenda after several Democrats voiced concerns over the amount and timing of the funding.

"I am very much concerned that we are passing this law that you have to have it by a certain date when experts tell us there is not a machine that will do this right," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said during a Sept. 5 House Rules Committee hearing.

Holt spokesman Tom ODonnell told eWEEK that other lawmakers were concerned if enough funding would be available for their states to implement the bills provisions. "Its a very complex issue," he said. "Were still working out the concerns of some members. Were very hopeful itll be on the agenda next week."


To read more about what the U.S. is doing wrong with e-voting, click here.

The bill amends the Help America Vote Act—or HAVA—which Congress passed in 2002 in the aftermath of the contested 2000 presidential election. HAVA provided funding for states to replace obsolete voting machines. States rushed to purchase electronic voting machines in time for the 2004 elections. Many of the machines, though, did not provide a paper trail.

In the 2004 elections, as many as 50 million voters cast ballots on electronic voting machines lacking a voter-verified paper audit trail.

"Votes are valuable and each voter should have the knowledge—and the confidence—that his or her vote was recorded and counted as intended," Holt said when introducing the bill on May 5. "Passage of this bill will be a big step in restoring that confidence, which is the very foundation of our democratic republic."

Both the Government Accountability Office and the Commission on Federal Election Reform endorsed voter-verified paper trails in September 2005.

While endorsing the bill, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which has long fought for voter paper trails and transparency for electronic voting machine vendors, said the legislation still falls short of what is needed, particularly in the area of source code provisions.

The original bill language required that the source code of electronic voting machines be disclosed for testing under a non-disclosure agreement. The language was changed to require the disclosure of "voting system software," a definition the EFF says does not explicitly include the source code.

"Our support for H.R. 811 is tempered by profound disappointment that one of the bills pillars has been watered down to the point of ineffectiveness due to pressure from the proprietary software industry," the EFF said in a statement on its Web site.

The EFF added, "Having litigated cases in which prompt access to voting system source code is critical, EFFs strong advocacy for this bill has been based in large part on the source code disclosure requirement."

Holts bill has gained 216 co-sponsors in the House.


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