12:07 AM Nov. 19, 2003 PT
As criticism of electronic voting systems heats up across the nation, three Republicans have signed on to support a bill that would force e-voting machines to produce a paper trail. Previously only Democrats had vowed to support the bill.
Republican congressmen Tom Davis of Virginia, Christopher Shays of Connecticut and New Hampshire's Charles Bass have agreed to co-sponsor the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003, which was introduced to the House in May by Rush Holt (D-N.J.).
The bill would require electronic voting machines that currently don't offer a paper trail, such as touch-screen voting machines, to produce a receipt. The receipts would allow voters to verify that a machine recorded their vote correctly and would be used as an audit trail in case of a computer malfunction or other election irregularity.
There are currently 74 co-sponsors of the bill. Davis, Shays and Bass, however, are the first Republicans to sign on as co-sponsors. Davis is the former chair of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.
Congressman Holt said voter receipts should not be a partisan issue, as all parties should be concerned about the integrity of voting systems.
"I am very pleased that my Republican colleagues have joined my effort to protect the future integrity of our elections. There's clearly momentum building in Congress and across the country to see this legislation pass.... I am confident that more Republicans will join me so that together we can pass this legislation and make sure that every vote cast in every future election is counted accurately," he said in a written statement released Wednesday.
Critics of electronic voting have been calling for a voter-verifiable receipt for some time to give voters confidence in the election process in general and voting systems in particular. They propose that the receipt could either scroll behind a glass partition so voters couldn't touch it, or pop out of the machine like an ATM receipt so voters could deposit it into a secure ballot box.
The bill would require that voting machines used for disabled voters provide a mechanism for voter verification as well. Advocates for disabled voters have balked at a voter receipt because they say it would disenfranchise voters with impaired sight. But the Holt bill says the mechanism for disabled voters would not necessarily be a paper receipt. Current touch-screen machines for disabled voters are equipped with headphones and audio to help voters cast their ballot.
In addition to a voter-verified receipt, the bill would ban the use of wireless communication devices, such as cell phones and wireless modems, to transfer votes from voting machines to election precincts. It would ban the use of undisclosed software in voting systems. This means voting machine companies would have to make their software code open to public scrutiny on request.
The bill requires all voting systems to meet these requirements by the general election in November 2004.