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Election Reform Bill (Rush Holt’s HR 811) Urgently Needs Reform

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There are many good provisions in the new election reform bill (HR 811 introduced by Congressman Rush Holt D-NJ), called the “Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007.” For example, it would ban wireless communications to reduce the possibility of some types of hacking; it would prevent Diebold, Sequoia, and other voting machine companies from using secret software on the voting machines; and it would require partial hand counts to check the accuracy of the machines.

However, the primary problem with the bill is that it allows the continued use of Direct Record Electronic (DRE), or “touch screen” voting machines, as long as they print out a copy of the electronic record of your vote for you to approve (called a “voter-verified paper audit trail” or “VVPAT”). But this “band-aid” cannot solve the systemic problems inherent to DREs. Democracy demands that DREs be banned from all American elections.

It has been said of those calling for a “ban DREs” amendment to HR 811 that we intend to “kill” the bill. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not seek to remove this bill from consideration; we seek to correct a fundamental omission, which we believe presents a grave danger to all future elections.

Why do we consider a ban on DREs an essential requirement? Because DREs constitute a new and subtle form of high tech voter suppression. Consider:

DREs (often called “touch screens”) cause long lines, forcing many legally registered voters to leave without being able to cast a vote, when too few machines are provided or the machines are delivered late, fail to start up, or break down. When voters make their selections on paper ballots, voting doesn’t depend on the availability of a machine.

E-Voting Failures in the 2006 Mid-Terms, page 14
"Was turned away at the polls because the electronic machines were down. Was in line since 7:10am. Was told to come back later. "

Long lines in 2004, chart

DREs disrupt the electoral process, as they have in the still-contested Jennings/Buchanan U.S. Congressional election in Sarasota, Florida, as well as in many less publicized races across the country. If the voters had voted on paper ballots, there would be no more speculation about the 18,000 missing votes. The ballots would be available for inspection. VVPATs (“paper trails”) would not have solved the problem in Sarasota.

Sarasota: Could a bug have lost votes?
"At this point, we still don’t know what caused the high undervote rate in Sarasota’s Congressional election."

DREs change voters’ selections from one candidate to the opponent, with no way for the voter to know if the right candidate was ultimately recorded inside the computer’s memory.

E-Voting Failures in the 2006 Mid-Terms, page 5
"Problems with the machine 'changing' his vote as he moved onto next issue. Judge kept coming over and ‘pushing buttons’ trying to fix it. When he finally got to the review screen, about 1/3 were wrong."

DREs confuse and cause anxiety for voters who aren’t computer-savvy, many of them elderly.

E-Voting Failures in the 2006 Mid-Terms, pages 11, 12.
"98% of the voters were intimidated and embarrassed by the machines. We had to help 3/4 of the people who voted cast their final vote. Some took an inordinate amount of time to vote. They all squinted at the machines because they were confused, I didn’t see them checking the tape to make sure it was correct."

Palm Beach County Parallel Testing Program. See pages 26 - 29.
"There are concerns regarding the usability of the DRE voting machines identified during the testing. These issues did not affect the vote tallies but are related to difficulties experienced by the testers (and presumably actual voters) in using the machines. As noted above, several of the DRE voting machines required multiple “tapping” of the screen to record votes at a disturbing frequency." [Editor’s note: This occurred a total of 383 times, on 15 of 22 test machines.]

DREs confuse pollworkers, who often have to call on technicians for help during the election, causing further delays for voters.

E-Voting Failures in the 2006 Mid-Terms, pages 11, 12.
"The election/polling volunteers were unplugging and replugging in the machines at the polling place. There were only 2 machines. Poll workers didn’t know what they were doing."

DREs disenfranchise minorities, as shown by the plunge in undervote rates of Native Americans and Hispanics in New Mexico when the state banned DREs and converted to paper ballots counted with optical scan technology.

Undervote Rates Plummet on Paper Ballots in Minority Precincts

Undervote Chart: Paper vs. DRE

DREs make ethnic profiling possible when voters are asked to choose between English and an alternate language, since software in the machines behaves differently based on the language chosen.

Sequoia DRE loses Spanish-language votes in California demo
"Charles [Sequoia representative] tried again to vote in Spanish with the same result: He cast votes on two mock ballot initiatives, but they were absent from the electronic summary screen and the paper trail."

Palm Beach County Parallel Testing Program. See pages 26, 27, 29.
"The ballot activated with a language choice of Spanish did not provide for the review of voter selections on the confirmation screen for the Court of Appeals contests or the Constitutional Amendments."

A DRE "ballot" is only an invisible, intangible record in computer memory, secret from the voter, rather than a paper the voter can know exists by seeing or touching it.

November, 2006. Mayoral candidate's vote on the ES&S touch screen was indisputably lost
"Randy Wooten figured he'd get at least one vote in his bid for mayor of this town of 80 people even if it was just his own. He didn't. Now he has to decide whether to file a formal protest."

With DREs, it is impossible to determine voter intent in recounts or investigations, because there is no original, observable record of the vote.

E-Voting Failures in the 2006 Mid-Terms, pages 11, 12. Excerpt:
"As voter was voting, the voter’s machine next to her broke down. Election official on-site could not fix it. Her machine asked if she had entered all the questions. She hit the ‘confirm’ button as instructed. Nothing happened. The election judge reviewed her vote but could not confirm that the machine had worked properly."

DREs are too complex and too high-tech for ordinary citizens to understand, effectively monitor, or measure for accuracy. They eliminate the electorate from vital aspects of the electoral process.

ES&S runs the election in Greenwood County, SC, November 2004
"As part of the federal grant agreement, ES&S will conduct the county’s first election using the iVotronic, said Connie Moody, director of voter registration and elections for Greenwood County. The equipment will not go into use until November, she said, when county election staff functions mostly as observers and consultants."

A printed copy of the electronic vote record (VVPAT) does not correct any of these problems. What’s more, studies show that most voters do not even look at the VVPAT to make sure it matches their selections on the screen. When they do, it’s difficult to notice errors.

With DREs, the voting public has no basis for confidence in election outcomes, which causes a lack of trust in our American democracy. This, alone, is a grave threat to the health and security of our nation.

E-voting on trial in Columbus, Ohio: The Squire Case
"In a December 2006, an independent audit conducted by voting rights activists trained in signature count audits, found that 86% of 206 Franklin County precincts would not balance with certified results. Most of these were off by significant margins when comparing poll book data and signatures to machine totals.

The Franklin County Board of Elections (BOE) has no plausible explanation for these discrepancies other than to say that their error rate is better than most counties in Ohio."

A reform in our election systems is needed NOW, but the new technology proposed by Rush Holt’s HR 811 HAS NOT YET BEEN INVENTED.

The bill, as written, would foster a fresh round of DRE development, rushed to market and certain to continue the technology's historical pattern of disenfranchising voters as well as wasting taxpayer dollars.

Tried and true technology is available now to convert the entire country to paper ballots. New Mexico’s smooth and speedy transition from DREs to optical scan paper ballots proves it.

Generations of Americans have fought long and hard to win the right to vote, and we must always remain vigilant to combat new attempts to disenfranchise voters. Today we are faced with a new, high-tech form of voter suppression – DREs. If HR 811 is to protect the precious right to vote, it must be amended to ban their use.

Originally published on February 28, 2007.

News stories make it rapidly apparent that
electronic voting is not reliable, accurate, or secure.
Any one who claims otherwise is either uninformed or deceptive.
~ Joseph Holder

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