Saturday, June 09, 2007

Why the critics of HR 811/Holt's bill on election reform are wrong, and how you can help

I'm a few days late in sharing this because I've been doing battle with well-meaning but sadly underinformed activists. I can't believe how many of their claims about Rush Holt's bill HR 811 are simply not substantiated by the explicit language of the bill. I'm sharing this with you because certain anti-Holt bill points keep getting echoed, even though they are without merit. I encourage anyone with the interest to read the bill. I downloaded it, printed it, and marked it up with post-it notes so I could more quickly refute these mythologies which are strangling are last best chance we have for voting reform before 2008.

I'm in touch with Holt's office, and am informed that the counties are pressuring hard to move that date back to 2010. It's IMPERATIVE, if you want to see paperless voting banned by 2008, and audits of the paper ballots instituted by 2008, that you call your representative TODAY and urge them to support this bill with the 2008 deadlines, paper trails and audit provisions intact. I'm not kidding - we're very much in danger of losing the 2008 goal. 2010 is too far away. Please act, and please ask your friends to act. You can find your Congressperson's contact info at

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Nancy Tobi's article in OpEd news a couple of days ago REALLY took the cake for dishonest representation. There were so many errors in her first paragraph alone that I've numbered them so you can follow along. Here's what she wrote:

"HR 811 has a long and controversial history. It is embraced primarily by well funded lobbyists (1), while the general citizenry (2), election officials, and activists (3) oppose the bill. In the ultimate bait and switch, all carrots dangled in front of activists have been eaten up: full software disclosure is now full nondisclosure (4). Implementation on key aspects is moved from 2008 to 2010 (5), effectively quashing the "Let's get it straight by 2008" bullshit campaign by MoveOn, Common Cause, VoteTrustUSA, PFAW and other large lobbyists pouring money into passage of this bill (and who is funding those guys anyway???) (6)."

(1) HR 811 is NOT primarily embraced by well-funded lobbyists. It has been primarily OPPOSED by the lobbyists for the electronic voting industry, who would much rather operate as they do now, without accountability or oversight. HR 811 is primarily embraced by groups like MoveOn, Norman Lear's People for the American Way, Common Cause, and concerned Congresspeople who understand more viscerally than anyone how their own re-election votes are at risk if they don't get this bill in place.

(2) HR 811 is NOT primarily "opposed by the general citizenry." That can only be described as an outright lie, because there have been no polls, no studies done. Nancy is taking her anecdotal evidence and making an unsubstantiated claim of gigantic and misleading proportions.

(3) HR 811 is SUPPORTED by quite a number of activists. David Dill of Verified Voting, Avi Rubin, and many others realize that a perfect bill is not on the menu, and the time has come for us to order, or go hungry. Many of us are now choosing to order from what's on the menu. And of the few bills in Congress that address this issue, HR 811 is by far the superior choice.

(4) Her next statement is perhaps the MOST misleading. She talks about "secret software." Under HR 811, the only software that is allowed to be secret is that which is NOT election-related!

It takes a lot of very specific code to run an election. It changes for a given election. The number of races and ballot measures and candidate names and positions on the ballot are not coded into "commercial off-the-shelf software." No "commercial off-the-shelf" software is going to be the problem in a hacked vote scenario. If hacking takes place, it has to be done in the ELECTION software, and THAT software is specifically made available for review under HR 811.

I used to work for Microsoft. I know the software development cycle for "commercial off the shelf software" ("COTS") The code is locked down many months in advance of the release date. There is simply no way to sneak election altering code into something when the code has to be frozen many more than six months in advance of the election, since no ballot positions have been assigned, etc. There is no credible scenario in which someone could hide election-altering code in COTS. It's just not possible. The only code that could be altered to change an election would be the ELECTION SOFTWARE, which IS FULLY DISCLOSED under Holt's bill HR 811.

Here are the provisions in HR 811 for reviewing all election-related software:

* ALL election software must be both deposited with an accredited laboratory AND disclosed, upon request, to anyone meeting ANY of the following criteria. (Note: "technology" is defined as being the "voting system software".)

o "A governmental entity with responsibility for the administration of voting and election-related matters for purposes of reviewing, analyzing, or reporting on the technology."

o "A party to pre- or post-election litigation challenging the result of an election or the administration or use of the technology used in an election, including but not limited to the certification of the technology"

o " expert for a party to such litigation" ("all parties to the litigation shall have access to the technology")

o "A person not described [above] who reviews, analyzes, or reports on the technology solely for an academic, scientific, technological, or other investigation or inquiry concerning the accuracy or integrity of the technology."

o Anyone specified under their own state laws (Holt's bill being a floor, not a ceiling, for reform - states can have additional criteria)

Here's some additional language from Holts' bill regarding the non-disclosure agreement ("NDA"):

A NDA cannot be used under Holt's bill in reference to our voting equipment and software unless it SPECIFICALLY:

* "allows DISCLOSURE OF EVIDENCE OF CRIME, including in response to a subpoena or warrant"

* "allows the signatory to perform analyses on the technology (including executing the technology), DISCLOSE REPORTS AND ANALYSES that describe operational issues pertaining to the technology, (including vulnerabilities to tampering, errors, risks associated with use, failures as a result of use, and other problems), and DESCRIBE OR EXPLAIN WHY OR HOW a voting system failed or otherwise did not perform as intended.

And does the bill stop there? No. Because lawyers WILL enter the picture, and try to get an injunction against those who may wish to examine the code. So the bill SPECIFICALLY PROTECTS US by offering this ban against injunctions. An NDA can only be valid under this bill if it:

* "prohibits the use of injunctions barring a signatory from carrying out any activity authorized under subparagraph (C), including injunctions limited to the period prior to a trail involving technology" - meaning, the courts can't stop someone from examining the code by trying to bring an injunction. Any NDA that would imply that cannot be used for our election systems under HR 811.

(Subparagraph C allows anyone who is either (i) a government official, (ii) a party to a lawsuit, or "a person not described above in clause (i) or (ii) who reviews, analyzes, or reports on the technology soley for an academic, scientific, technological, or other investigation or inquiry concerning the accuracy or integrity of the technology.")

(5) Tobi said key aspects of the bill are not implemented until 2010. In fact, there is only ONE key aspect which is delayed until 2010. DREs that currently produce a paper ballot that the voter can verify, but which is on a thermal roll, do not have to be replaced until 2010. But all other key provisions MUST be implemented in 2008. That's sooner than any other bill on the table, and just barely in time to forestall a stolen election in 2008.

(6) Tobi's last comment is the most libelous of all. She asks, who is funding MoveOn, PFAW, Common Cause, etc. Why, THE PEOPLE, Nancy. The PEOPLE who believe these organizations have been around the block and understand better than newcomers to activism how laws are made, the give and take of the process, and how you never get everything you want. But what's especially ironic about this is that Nancy is asking the very question she was outraged by when the question was directed at her recently (i.e., who is SHE working for).

I could go on - the next paragraph was just as bad. But why? Nancy Tobi is not a credible spokesperson on this issue. We need people who want to move us beyond what we'll have without Holt's bill - paperless elections - and forward to a day when all machines give paper trails, voters are informed that they MUST check those paper trails for accuracy, and when the paper trails will not only be audited, but will have the upper hand, legally, in any dispute. THAT is what Holt's bill HR 811 offers us.

On the other hand, if HR 811, Holts' bill, goes down, no one in Congress will want to touch this issue. It will be tainted with loss, and politicians need wins, not losses.

If we pass HR 811, however, we'll gain momentum for passing even stronger election reform. And we'll have the best chance we've had in eight years of ensuring that our vote was actually counted as cast. If we lose our vote to paperless machines, we lose our voice, and cease to be a democracy. Yes, it's that serious. And time is running out.

Please help. It takes one minute. Call up your Congressperson (found at - enter your address/ZIP and you'll be pointed to your Rep's site.) Find the "Contact" info. Dial the phone number.

Say, "I'm a constituent of Congressperson [NAME] and I want to urge him/her to support HR 811, Rush Holt's bill on voting reform." That's it. That's all you need to do. The staffer who answers the phone might ask for some name and address info to verify that you are, in fact, a constituent. But it's really that simple. For those who are terrified of calling up strangers, remember, these are your employees, and they are very kind and gentle!

Thank you so much for your attention, and for your activism on this matter.


Blogger Frez said...


Great article on an important topic. For those without a statistical or industrial quality control background, it's easy to think there isn't enough sampling in Holt's bill, but 90 years of quality control history make it quite clear that there is.

Many also criticize Holt's bill for "failing to address" other legitimate areas of grievance about US elections. But Holt wrote HR-811 with the specific intent of addressing one area -- being assured your vote counts -- and doing it well. It's precisely because of HR-811's laser focus on voting machine integrity that it has a decent chance at passage, and that's something we don't want to mess with!

7:51 PM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Thanks for your comments, Frez. A lot of the fearmongering comes from ignorance, and from a mingling of fact with opinion. It behooves all of us to sort the wheat (facts) from the chaff (opinion). I have a great book at home by the inimitable George Seldes. He tries to break down how to scan for propaganda, how to read the various sections of the newspaper, and discusses which sections are more trustworthy than others. His advice for reading the Opinion page? "Don't." :D Facts are what matter, not spin, not interpretation, and definitely not opinion.

8:39 PM  
Blogger nearing said...

Lisa, your article is interesting reading, thank you. What I and many of my peers are afraid of is that this bill doesn't give us a paper ballot but a paper for audit later.

Now the problem with that is it gives people a false sense of security. That their vote will actually be looked at with human eyes at some point (which it will not, because recounts are very rare) AND the computers are still 'counting the vote', which means it is not transparent to the citizen (which programmer are we computer-illerates supposed to believe, anyway?)

AND in the end, passing this bill can have the deleterious effect of never going to actual Paper Ballots Counted By Human Hands (which is the ONLY safe and transparent way for us to vote) because most people will think that it is not necessary after this bill is passed.

The only true way for the American Citizen to know that their voice was heard is to vote the way Canada and Germany do-paper ballots counted by human hands. Holt's bill is courageous on the face of it but doesn't get us there.

That kind of bill would be simple and quick to propose. We could lobby our Reps to do it now and have it in place in time for 2008. Heck, we could even borrow Canada's or Germany's language to get it done quicker.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Sadly, nearing, your comment is entirely indicative of the political naivete of those who oppose Holt's bill. You don't understand that hand counted paper ballots is not an option at that point in time, because our election officials don't want to do this. Kucinich had such a proposal in the last session - it got nowhere. And if he reintroduces it, he'll get very few co-sponsors if the date is 2008. That's just the reality of the situation.

What we have now is a completely riggable count without any way to prove it.

I'm willing to take the audits as a necessary first step. It's not final reform, nor is it meant to be. It's a big step towards reclaiming our vote.

As I said elsewhere on this subject, our vote is like a forest that has been burned down. You don't get to plant full-grown trees and get back to your forest. That's not how the world works. We have to plant seeds, and grow them into saplings, and not cut them down prematurely just because they aren't full-grown trees.

The legislative process is incremental. Young people or people new to the process don't understand that. But those of us who have been around the block in this regard a few times know that everything good involves some compromise, and you take what you can get whenever you can get it, or you get NOTHING.

And NOTHING, right now, leaves us completely vulnerable to another stolen election.

9:04 AM  

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