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On the horizon in 2011

Happy New Year!

I’ve been trying to figure out what the next year should be about.  Should it be the economy?  The war?  Equal rights for women?  But I keep coming back to the same point: protecting our right to vote.  Without that, nothing else you want to accomplish matters.  It is this right that I think is most under threat, if it hasn’t already technically disappeared.

Here in NJ, we vote on electronic voting machines that don’t print a paper trail.  Back in 2006, Rush Holt, Congressperson from  NJ-12 (including Princeton), found out how easy it was to rig the voting machines and tried to introduce bills in Congress that would ensure the accuracy of the votes cast.  Here’s a recap of a Diebold hack:

In response, Holt introduced HR2894, The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2009:

Voting is the foundation of democracy, but there are still states and jurisdictions in the United States that use unauditable electronic voting machines whose vote tallies cannot be confirmed independently. To ensure the integrity of our elections, Rep. Holt introduced bipartisan legislation in the 111th Congress.  Entitled The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2009 (HR 2894), it would create a national standard that will ensure the accessibility, verifiability, and auditability of every vote in the United States. Votes are valuable, and each voter should have the knowledge – and the confidence – that his or her vote was recorded and counted as intended.  Enacting this legislation would be a big step in restoring that confidence.


As Rep. Holt has said, “It is time to stop gambling with our elections and implement a national standard that will require that elections be independently auditable, and routinely audited.  This legislation will ensure that every vote in the United States is recorded and counted as intended.

Bill Summary (click here for bill text)

  • Requires a voter-marked or ballot-marking-device paper ballot be produced for every vote cast in time for the November 2010 elections. (this deadline has already passed but it’s not too late for the upcoming primary season and presidential election)
  • Provides that printer-equipped electronic voting systems used in 2008 elections can be used after 2010 but are to be replaced with paper
  • ballots before the first federal election in 2014.
  • Ensures that the paper ballot is the vote of record in all recounts and audits.
  • Requires routine random audits be conducted by hand count in 3 percent of the precincts in all Federal elections, and 5 percent or 10 percent in very close races.
  • Bans wireless devices, Internet connections, and uncertified and undisclosed software in voting and tabulating machines.

This bill hasn’t passed yet.  It has been referred to the Committee for Technology and Innovation.  Note that the bill was stalled in a DEMOCRATIC Congress.  It’s hard to believe that there would be that much trouble fitting voting machines with a printer to print out a paper receipt of the vote cast for retention by the precinct for count verification, and a duplicate receipt to be retained by the voter.  And think of all the employment this could generate as thousands of voting machines are retrofitted throughout the nation.  This is not rocket science, people.   We have a year before the first primaries start.  Any excuse that would prevent a verifiable paper trail is unacceptable. If a machine can’t be retrofitted in time, paper ballots should be offered as an alternative.

This is an issue that voters of both parties can get behind.  Without verfiable voting, you can’t be sure that your vote counts for regulating the banksters, protecting social security, stopping the wars or even electing a third party candidate.  With more and more voting machines being rolled into every precinct around the country, there will be increased risk that the votes will be tampered.  Moreover, the temptation to do so will become overwhelming.  And we have seen in the past that problems with butterfly ballots and deliberate shortages of voting machines in just a few key districts can swing the results of an election and have significant political ramifications for our nation.  The argument over malice vs stupidity becomes irrelevant when one party declares victory and the candidate is sworn in because the votes cannot be verified.

We, the voters, have been burned too many times in the past 11 years to remain complacent about guarding our voting rights.  If the outcome of an election is predetermined, then your rights as a citizen to participate fully in your democracy are violated.  And if the thugs who rig an election get away with it because no one has the means to protest, then you no longer have a means to influence your government and the politicians in charge no longer feel constrained to behave in a manner conducive to your well being.

So, I would like the left blogosphere to take a leading role in moving HR2894 forward and see it passed into law.  There  is no more important bill in Congress right now.  Let’s put pressure on Congress to move this bill and see which representatives from both parties support it and which do not.  We need to start asking our politicians hard questions about how they intend to protect our voting rights and how serious they are about not obstructing voters’ choices in primary and general elections.

Make 2011 the year the voters put their feet down and defend their rights.  All other rights and functions of government flow from your right to vote.

PS, if anyone from Holt’s office can tell us how we can help, please contact us.

And, from Spain, here is the ideal voting experience: