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United States Government User Journal Politics

A Flawed US Election Reform Bill 188

Posted by kdawson
from the paper-trails-at-high-cost dept.
H.R.811 sounds great: It's stated purpose is "to require a voter-verified permanent paper ballot." Unfortunately, it sounds like the details have some devils, as usual. From the Bev Harris article Is a flawed bill better than no bill?: "[T]he Holt Bill provides for a paper trail (toilet paper roll-style records affixed to DRE voting machines) in 2008, requires more durable ballots in 2010, and requires a complex set of audits. It also cements and further empowers a concentration of power over elections under the White House, gives explicit federal sanction to trade secrets in vote counting, mandates an expensive 'text conversion' device that does not yet exist which is not fully funded, and removes 'safe harbor' for states in a way that opens them up to unlimited, expensive, and destabilizing litigation." Update: 07/11 16:23 GMT by KD : Derek Slater writes "EFF's e-voting expert Matt Zimmerman recently published this article separating the myths about HR 811 from the facts, and countering many of the misleading and outright false claims being made about it."
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A Flawed US Election Reform Bill

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  • Other than that, it's ok.
  • by tttonyyy (726776) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @07:50AM (#19836643) Homepage Journal
    Type "Wii" to much and you start producing words like "Biill".

    I knew I was a PHP ubergeek when I found myself typing "mysql" automatically whenever I meant to type "myself" in e-mails (and I did it typing this sentence and had to correct it, I kid you not!).
    • by tttonyyy (726776)

      Type "Wii" to much
      Just to pre-empt the pedants, yes, I did mean "too" and not "to".

      I feel your pain kdawson. The force is strong between us.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Red Flayer (890720)

      by tttonyyy (726776) Alter Relationship on Thursday July 12, @08:50AM (#19836643)
      Sure, but that doesn't explain your muscle-memory producing "tttonyyy" for your nick.
    • by Bob-taro (996889)

      I knew I was a PHP ubergeek when I found myself typing "mysql" automatically whenever I meant to type "myself" in e-mails (and I did it typing this sentence and had to correct it, I kid you not!).
      That doesn't make you a geek, you probably just need to get some sleep(8*3600).
  • My opinion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy (595695) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:00AM (#19836715) Homepage
    My opinion is that the US election system has become too cumbersome/complicated for the average person. I'm Canadian, and I find voting very simple. Federal elections require me to check 1 box. That's it. There is about 7? boxes to choose from depending on which riding you are located in. Each box shows the name of the representative of a specific party. Provincial elections are the same, although there's usually less boxes. Municipal elections are actually the most complicated, in which I have to vote for Mayor, Councillor, and school board trustee. There's too many options on the US ballot, and having different ballots for every state or county when people are electing the president just makes things overly complicated. There would be no need for voting machines if people weren't voting on 75 different issues for every election. A simple pencil and paper ballot works a lot better.
    • by Dachannien (617929) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:04AM (#19836743)
      In other words, the US election system sucks because we don't just vote for a supreme overlord and be done with it?

      Although, if there were a box on my ballot labeled, "I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords," I'd probably check it.
      • Diebold (Score:4, Funny)

        by rustalot42684 (1055008) <fakeNO@SPAMaccount.com> on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:09AM (#19836799)
        So that's a vote registered to Diebold, right?
      • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:30AM (#19836969) Homepage Journal

        n other words, the US election system sucks because we don't just vote for a supreme overlord and be done with it?


        I don't know about you, but my last ballot said:

        Supreme Overload (check only ONE):
        [ ] The Dark One
        [ ] One Ring to Rule Them All...
        [ ] The Lord of Mordor
        [ ] Sauron, The Dark Lord

        And I was really confused. So I just filled one in at random.

        It's perhaps worth nothing that I live in Florida.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by josquint (193951)

          Supreme Overload (check only ONE):

          Is that like getting slashdotted?
        • You missed out the most popular option

          Supreme Overload (check only ONE):
          [ ] The Dark One
          [ ] One Ring to Rule Them All...
          [ ] The Lord of Mordor
          [ ] Sauron, The Dark Lord
          [x] CowboyNeal
        • by fritsd (924429)
          So where was the "Profit" option?
      • Re:My opinion (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CastrTroy (595695) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:37AM (#19837049) Homepage
        Actually, no, we only vote for the people who will represent us in our tiny little area. So we don't vote for the Prime Minister, or the provincial premier, (at least no most of us). We vote for somebody from our area who is (supposedly) looking out for the people in that small area. The leader of the party with the most people voted in become Prime Minister. In the US, people do vote for the supreme overload (the president) but the problem is that they also have to vote for millions of other little things. What's the point of electing people if you can't delegate to them some of the decision making.
        • In the US, ... the problem is that they also have to vote for millions of other little things. What's the point of electing people if you can't delegate to them some of the decision making.

          Huh? We in America delegate some but not all decision making authority to our elected folks. Major issues should be voted on directly, that's the whole point of democracy. Or are you suggesting Americans are so foolish they cannot handle making decisions beyond looking for the (D) or (R) next to candidates' names?

          I

          • by plague3106 (71849)
            Huh? We in America delegate some but not all decision making authority to our elected folks. Major issues should be voted on directly, that's the whole point of democracy. Or are you suggesting Americans are so foolish they cannot handle making decisions beyond looking for the (D) or (R) next to candidates' names?

            Apparently you are a foolish American that shouldn't bother going to vote. We're not a democracy, we are a republic, because a democracy is simply mob rule, whereas our system is supposed to prote
        • What's the point of electing people if you can't delegate to them some of the decision making.

          1) On some issues elected officials, just by being elected officials, have (or perceive) a conflict-of-interest with the voters and thus have a strong incentive to vote in non-representative ways. (Example: Raising taxes.)

          2) There are a large number of issues. It's often impossible to find (or elect) a candidate that has the same opinions on all the important issues as the people he represents. In that case the
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Or do it the way it is in Toronto municipal elections: there is an arrow with a gap thru it like so:
      = =>
      next to each name. you use the advanced technology of the 'pencil' to complete the arrow of your desired candidate (for mayor and for councillor, they're separate categories), and then it goes into a scanner that detects which arrow you selected. Then it goes into a stack so there is a paper trail. This way you get the advantages of machine voting with the advantages of paper voting.
      • by Elemenope (905108)

        Many US jurisdictions do it this way. I live in Rhode Island, and we use the 'complete the arrow, scan ballot sheet' system; it works alright.

      • Maine also does ballots this way, except that you use a black marker instead of a pencil.
        • by TheGreek (2403)

          Maine also does ballots this way, except that you use a black marker instead of a pencil.
          Not in all precincts. I still check boxes.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tist (1086039)
      I spent some time doing IV&V (Independent Verification and Validation) for Ohio. We tested both Diebold and ES&S touch screen machines. The process was spelled out in detail to cast votes and then verify that both the paper tape and the accumulated digital version on PCMCIA card matched the votes that were input. We selected the votes to cast, so no one at the voting company could know what we were casting. With all that behind me and my experience with the business, the single weakest point of the
    • by doom (14564)

      A simple pencil and paper ballot works a lot better.

      I'm inclined to agree, unfortunately that would (a) require an admission of failure (b) put some well-connected voting machine businesses out of business.

  • How about a machine running Tivo-style Linux (so you can't mess with the software) that lets the user pick one out of several choices, then prints a receipt and says "Does the receipt match the screen?". It's /not/ /that/ /hard/.
    • How about a machine running Tivo-style Linux (so you can't mess with the software) that lets the user pick one out of several choices, then prints a receipt and says "Does the receipt match the screen?". It's /not/ /that/ /hard/.

      even then, there's no guarantee that the vote actually got registered correctly... if they fudge the vote just enough to avoid flagging it up, then they can easily steal the entire election with just a few votes here, a few votes there in the constituencies that matter... they're n

  • by conspirator57 (1123519) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:02AM (#19836735)
    On top of the usual politicking and industry appeasement, there is the fact that there is only one engineer in congress now, and he's a civil.

    If as our fearless leaders say "the future of America is the knowledge worker and innovator" then we must start electing a few (or more) people with technical backgrounds.

    For this to happen, some of us introverted technical folks are going to have to swallow that and run for office.

    • by internic (453511) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:54AM (#19837277)

      Rush Holt, the author of H.R. 811, has a Ph.D. in Physics. Also note that a bill does not always represent what the law maker thinks is best, but rather it's the best thing they think can actually pass.

      • by Danse (1026)

        Also note that a bill does not always represent what the law maker thinks is best, but rather it's the best thing they think can actually pass.

        Yeah, but we shouldn't be passing a bill just to pass one. This bill will actually make things worse by explicitly or implicitly allowing many of the problems to remain, while simultaneously removing the ability of the states to make the systems better on their own, and increasing costs all around just for good measure. If they can't do it right, then they should stay the hell away from the issue and at least let the states have a shot at it on their own.

        • by internic (453511) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @10:02AM (#19838015)

          Yeah, but we shouldn't be passing a bill just to pass one. This bill will actually make things worse by explicitly or implicitly allowing many of the problems to remain, while simultaneously removing the ability of the states to make the systems better on their own, and increasing costs all around just for good measure. If they can't do it right, then they should stay the hell away from the issue and at least let the states have a shot at it on their own.

          By adding a voter-verifiable paper trail, it addresses by far the most serious problem with DRE voting machines. Using the rationale that we shouldn't pass it because it leaves some problems unsolved is making the perfect the enemy of the good. This is the way many activist communities shoot themselves in the foot. As for limiting the states, as I understand it this doesn't. From the EFF [eff.org]:

          The higher standards required by HR 811 would provide the beginning, not the end, of serious election reform. States wishing to, say, ban all electronic voting machines, impose stricter audit requirements, or force vendors to publicly disclose all of their source code will remain free to do so, as they are today. If HR 811 becomes law, however, states would not be permitted to lag behind in many important areas as so many do today.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Danse (1026)

            As for limiting the states, as I understand it this doesn't.

            I just read the EFF link and read through some of the actual bill, and while I think it should do more (like requiring that the source code be publicly available), I do think that it will be a major improvement to the current situation, and hopefully a good starting point for further reform of our election system. I think the BBV article is at least somewhat misleading in its claims, at least if the EFF is correct in theirs (which I'm more inclined to believe). Even if some of what the BBV article says i

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by internic (453511)

              Like you, I'm not legal expert. Additionally, I personally haven't had the time to devote to studying this issue as much as I'd like. But I tend to trust the interpretation of the bill by the EFF, and I take into consideration the support of the bill by other people to whom I give credence, like Ed Felten. I'm not saying that BBV may not make some valid points, but right now it seems to me that, on balance, it would be better for the bill to pass.

              As for ulterior motives, I agree that there are plent

      • Rush Holt, the author of H.R. 811, has a Ph.D. in Physics.

        Which means exactly zero when it comes to election reform.

        Also note that a bill does not always represent what the law maker thinks is best, but rather it's the best thing they think can actually pass.

        I am aware that getting SOMETHING done is often seen as necessary. However, I have a prejudice in favour of getting something done RIGHT. If more of our lawmakers worked on the assumption that a bad bill is worse than no bill, we'd all be better off

        • by internic (453511)

          The GP complained about the lack of engineers and technical know-how in relation to the bill. I simply pointed out that the bill's author, Holt, has a Ph.D. in Physics, so he does have technical knowledge. It is semi-relevant in this discussion, since we're talking about reforms related to electronic voting machines. The bill doesn't tell anyone to use electronic voting machines (it leaves that issue aside entirely), but it says that if you are going to use them you have to meet certain minimum requirem

      • The Ph.D. would typically doom him, but luckily he's religious (Quaker) and has a dad-who-was-senator.
      • by bagsc (254194)
        The Bill [house.gov] firstly has to be something that can get out of committee. The Bill was referred to the Cmte on House Administration [house.gov], which consists of 6 Democrats, and 3 Republicans. Committee is where all the magic happens, with the main edits, and people check on whether its popular enough to get passed. If you think you've got good ideas for the Bill, read the Hearings [house.gov] and a href="contact the Committee members. If your ideas are good enough, you can change the minds of one of these 9 people, and have the l
  • by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:03AM (#19836737)
    The bill looks like it creates far more problems than it repairs...and doesn't repair the problems it is supposed to in the first place.

    I'm a right-winger who doesn't think there is much to the election fraud arguments, and even I think that there needs to be a paper trail for voting. We don't need new laws to fix the problem, new bureaucracies...if there is ONE thing that needs to be transparent in government, it is the election process. BOTH sides of the aisle look bad on election matters right now, and no real practical solution has arisen out of Washington yet.
    • by lawpoop (604919) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:10AM (#19836805) Homepage Journal

      BOTH sides of the aisle look bad on election matters right now, and no real practical solution has arisen out of Washington yet.
      Well, jeez, what is their incentive to fix things? Apparently election fraud is how they get into office!
      • Would it be legal to bet on which politician annually is identified as the worse politician in the United States?
        Would it be legal to bet on which politician will wipe their ass with The USA Constitution and Citizens next?

        If Vegas could come up with odds and fair-games that could tally
        nationally and internationally the worse/best "in office"
        politician ... I would damn sure start voting again with a few
        bets in Vegas.

        I mean, I think, we can't legally sell our vote or bet on elections; However, our votes (most
      • by Minwee (522556)
        Yeah, it's funny how the "Vote Those Bastards Out Of Office" act somehow fails to pass every time it comes up.
    • by internic (453511)

      Currently, if you use a DRE your vote goes into what is essentially a black box and you have no idea whether it actually recorded the vote the way you cast it. Moreover, no one can meaningfully audit it after the fact. I find it hard to fathom how this bill can create problems worse than that.

    • Tolerance Stackup (Score:3, Insightful)

      by starglider29a (719559)
      While in principal I agree that every vote counts, and every vote is sacred... [deep breath] An election is a system. It is a machine. It has to have SOME fault-tolerance.

      But when one vote can swing one state can swing one electoral bloc can swing one election can swing one world climate/political landscape/economy... THAT is a BSOD waiting to happen. With the ability to count 99.994% of the votes instantly, the need for the Electoral College is obviated. Instead of using a fault-ridden system (Imagine if
      • by nelsonal (549144)
        The electoral college was created for a reason and that reason wasn't low bandwith communication. It was created specifically to prevent the populous North from imposing its will on the rural South. It was couched in "regionalism" but most of our nations structure was designed to keep NY, Philly, and Boston from ruling over Richmond and Atlanta.
      • The problem with your argument is that the electoral college is the great "equalizer" of urban populations, and gives us more suburban/rural types a say in who is President. It would boil down to major population centers having even GREATER weight in determining who is President, rather than a whole of the American people.

        The U.S. is so big, that there may not be a good way to elect a President under any system...which is why we need to be glad we have Congress and a Judiciary, inept at times though the
        • by Abcd1234 (188840)
          The problem with your argument is that the electoral college is the great "equalizer" of urban populations, and gives us more suburban/rural types a say in who is President.

          Or, put another way, the electoral college means some people's votes are worth more than others.

          Why it is some people think that's right, moral, or fair, I have no idea.
        • The problem with YOUR problem with MY argument is that many states, including my own, have a large population center AND a large rural area. There are many such. CA, TX, FL, MI. Now, it's not that Richmond and Atlanta are ruled by NY, Philly and Boston, but that The Lower Peninsula of Michigan is ruled by Detroit. My complaint is not that however Detroit votes rules Michigan, or SFO/LAX rule CA. It's not even that how NY votes rules The South, because that has all changed. You might recall that we've added
        • by Lockejaw (955650)

          The problem with your argument is that the electoral college is the great "equalizer" of urban populations, and gives us more suburban/rural types a say in who is President.
          How about you go down to Carbondale and try convincing people of that.
    • The bill looks like it creates far more problems than it repairs...and doesn't repair the problems it is supposed to in the first place.

      Can you elaborate? I read the EFF's position and find myself agreeing with their position.

  • ...for a better "nutshell" summary than the one in TFA. I read the whole thing, the actual whole thing, including all the comments with the bad avatar-like photos, and I'm still confused about why this Holt Bill is so bad. I'm not saying it's good. I'm just saying I don't know. Most of all, I don't particularly trust the summary of someone who then goes on to argue against a bill, mainly by just repeating the same comments over and over again with no deeper explanation.
    • by lilomar (1072448)
      Exactly what I'm wondering. I RTFA hoping to understand what the summary was going on about, and came away still confused. (Did anyone see anything in the summary about minorities being discriminated against?)

      Can anyone explain what the big deal is? I'm not saying that it isn't a big deal. Just that I can't understand a word of it past "toilet paper".
  • The only solution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jaaay (1124197)
    is the dead tree solution without any computers in site. Anything else is bad for everyone except Diebold.
  • The more power the white house gets, the more corrupt it will become - regardless of which party is there.

  • by conureman (748753) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:19AM (#19836875)
    I guess if they're going to quit pretending to count my vote, maybe I can quit pretending it matters, and I can stay home and wait for the results on teevee like every one else. What a time-saver!
  • by vsavkin (136167) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:19AM (#19836879)
    > a voter-verified permanent paper ballot

    yeah, but will it blend?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:21AM (#19836901)
    I reckon we should ask Hillary.
  • by AlHunt (982887) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @08:21AM (#19836903) Homepage Journal
    >[T]he Holt Bill provides for a paper trail (toilet paper roll-style records

    How fitting. I think all federal documents should be thus produced.

  • "trade secrets in vote counting"

    Hell, fellas - it's not that complicated.
    • by db32 (862117)
      1+1=3 for sufficiently large values of 1. The trade secret part is simple...if there is any "trade secret" involved in candidate.vote+=1 then it means at some point they are doing something like candidate.vote=candidate.payoff_index*candidate.v o te. They don't want the candidates to know how much money it takes to affect their candidate.payoff_index value or the candidates will only pay the minimum bribes to get the desired multiplier. If its a black box system the candidates will have to bribe more worr
  • I was sleeping last night and this came to me in a vision. How about we have all of the major television networks choose a candidate. They will all appear on TV during the same block of time. Then we just check with Nielsen. The candidate with the highest rating wins...
  • If we marked a paper ballot and then inserted it into a scanner, the scanner would show "This is your vote. Press Yes if you agree."

    If Yes then the ballot is moved into a box and the tally is tallied.

    At the closing of the voting day, several precincts are selected at random and their paper ballots are counted by hand. If the hand count agrees with the machine count, then the other precincts are counted via their machine counts and the vote count is published.

    NB, no ballot counts are published until t

  • by internic (453511) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @09:21AM (#19837547)

    Some of the objections given at the beginning of the article seem to be worth considering. The straw man debate that follows is just idiotic, however. It might be useful to look at what some actual supporters have to say, supporters like the EFF [eff.org], Prof. Ed Felten [freedom-to-tinker.com], Ars Technica [arstechnica.com], the Brennan Center for Justice [federalele...reform.com], People of the American Way, TrueVoteMD [truevotemd.org], and Prof. Avi Rubin [blogspot.com] to name a few.

    • by Danse (1026)
      You can also send support email [eff.org] to your congressperson from the EFF site if you decide that this bill is worthy of support.
  • wonder if there's a block of voters out there thinking that using computers to vote is a good idea? Seriously. I'm asking because I don't know.

    Regardless of /. opinion on the matter I'm led to believe that a small group of people somewhere is ramming electronic voting through local/state/federal government. If there was ever an example of how corrupt the workings of American Government are, I'd say this is it.

    Discuss amongst yourselves.
  • Don't like the election results, sue to change them.
  • Well this is how it is done over in Sweden at least...

    You get an envelope. You stick a bit of paper in it which holds the relevant information. It is counted, by hand, within 24 hours.
    Now ok, the US has a larger population, but that also means you have a larger number of people to do the counting.

    I really don't see why you need an advanced computer system to do this once every couple of years. Keep it simple, keep it open, and keep it manual. It works.
    • In the USA, people get to vote on all manner of different positions which, in other countries, are appointed by the government. They not only vote for politicians, at the state and local level they vote for judges, police chiefs, chief prosecutors, chiefs of fire departments, the members of the school administration board (this is how the crazy creationists occasionally try to impose creationist textbooks on school)...and on and on it goes. In some states, there will also be a number of citizen-initiated
  • As long as the incumbent parties are involved, the process will remain suspect. Ballot stuffing occurs on BOTH sides of the isle, as well as trying to restrict (enable) who can vote. Both (D) and (R) do it. And if it wasn't (D) or (R) it would be someone else afraid of losing power.

    The point being, all the laws in the world are not going to prevent vote tampering. The process will NEVER be perfect, the best we can do is LIMIT the fraud so that the elections aren't thrown because of fraud. In the case of EXT
  • Politicians continue to destroy the country, the world, and life in general. Doing their job as usual I see.

    Tell me again why anyone even votes at all.
    • Tell me again why anyone even votes at all.

      It's your license to bitch, and a way I like to shut people up who complain about the current situation. It's real simple:

      "Did you vote in the last non-primary election?"
      "No."
      "Then you're part of the problem."

      or

      "Yes."
      "OK, so did you consider every position your candidate stood for or did you vote for him or her because of party affiliation, or because he or she wasn't the 'other' guy?"

  • Well, up to a point it will. Anyone and everyone should be able to receive, from these electronic voting machines, a paper copy/receipt showing for whom they voted. In my district, we use the Scantron type of sheets, so our ballots are always "on paper."

    Overall, though, what difference is all this going to make if they do not require some kind of voter ID card that has a photo attached to it? Sure, everyone calls up the scenario of the Chicago Mayoral Elections and Mayor Daly (father of the current mayo

  • The most important thing that needs to be fixed is vote suppression by failing to process voter registrations and by using under under-resourcing and identity challenges to clog up polling stations in minority districts. These tactics quite possibly changed the 2004 result in Ohio, so we know it is a real problem now. I see no mention of these issues being addressed by these bills.

    Its certainly true that current voting machines have terrible security. But if you put even secure machines under the control

    • And the news agencies calling Florida before the polls closed in the Pensacola (Central Time Zone) area wasn't a problem? How many people turned around when they heard, "We're calling Florida for Al Gore," while they still had an hour to go and vote? It doesn't matter what candidate they would've voted for... they were hurt by Dan Rather, et al, having to call things way too soon.

      Sorry, but in our thirst for immediate results, we have completely hurt the process. Nobody should be allowed to announce elec

      • They are used to tell the parties how many times their operatives still need to vote late on election day.

        That's the reason some districts suddenly have long lines appear an hour before the polls close (St. Louis is the most blatant example in recent elections, some districts have routine 105% voter turnouts, strangely no investigations).

  • Just remember, the House is controlled by one party right now. That party created HR811. So, those who voted them in, you gets what you paid for.

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