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"Secure Elections Act" Coming Up For Vote 83

Irvu writes "The US House of Representatives is considering HR. 5036, the 'Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008,' as introduced by Representative Rush Holt. The bill is scheduled for a floor vote later today. It would provide for emergency paper ballots, money for the addition of voter verifiable paper ballots to existing systems, and post-election audits. Crucially, the change to paper is opt-in, making it possible for local jurisdictions to govern their own choices. Here are two summaries of the bill. It was reported out of committee with strong bipartisan support. As of this morning the White house has opposed the bill but not threatened a veto, and some previously supportive Republicans have now changed their tune. Calls may be made to your house rep (click on 'Find your representative'). Here's a sample support letter."
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"Secure Elections Act" Coming Up For Vote

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  • It's got to be a trap... the end result is a fair election. Where's the tinfoil hat!?

    • Re:Nonsence... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Metasquares ( 555685 ) <slashdot AT metasquared DOT com> on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @06:08PM (#23083104) Homepage
      Holt is one of the few congressmen who have actually earned my respect - and he's one of the few I'd actually expect to sponsor such a bill without any traps.
      • I could care less.

        McCain, or Billary, or Obama... it's all the same result (more taxes, less freedom). It matters not which one of them wins. What we need is a real liberty-loving president like Thomas Jefferson. Too bad no such man exists.

      • more filth from the corrupt yankee pidogs - they would not know a genuine election if it was shot from the 'Grassy Knoll'
    • Re:Nonsence... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mweather ( 1089505 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @06:21PM (#23083204)
      A fair election? You mean this ends automatic ballot access for Democrats and Republicans, as well as matching funds?
      • Re:Nonsence... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @06:32PM (#23083288) Homepage
        Not that fair...
      • A fair election? You mean this ends automatic ballot access for Democrats and Republicans, as well as matching funds?

        To be more accurate (but not "fair"), the ruling on ballot access and matching funds is generally decided by percent of popular vote in the prior election and these rules vary by state []. All parties have to get a certain number of signatures (via petition) to get on the ballot, but the number of signatures varies depending on the performance in the past election. Once the threshold has bee

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Misch ( 158807 )
      Pssst: Ed Felten [] is a constituent of Rush Holt.
    • Suspicion arises when Obama wins 65% of the vote on paper ballots and McCain wins 98% on electronic voting machines;
      "We cannot accept these strange Democratic biases we are seeing with paper ballots" claimed Bill Frist.
    • How depressing (Score:4, Informative)

      by jweller13 ( 1148823 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @07:57PM (#23084116)
      How depressing that my country is experiencing 3rd world style voting problems 200 year after establishing democracy. Citizens having trust in elections is the fundamental backbone to a democracy. I'm further amazed that voters aren't outraged and up in arms over this. This should be THE most important platform issue in our current presidential elections.

      Check out this article and you'll get really get upset about some electronic voting machines in use. []

      • by et764 ( 837202 )

        How depressing that my country is experiencing 3rd world style voting problems 200 year after establishing democracy.

        Perhaps even more depressing is that this isn't even all that surprising. Democracies don't tend to stay democracies for much more than 200 years.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by zippthorne ( 748122 )
          Well.. it's a good thing we've got a Republic, then...

          I'm sure that they said the same thing (with a smaller number, of course) in 1861. After all, how many republics or democracies had even existed before then? (I know it's at least one of each, but the number is small until the modern era, in which the US was one of the first.)
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The trap is they're phasing out tinfoil hats for worthless yet stylish paper ones. Be afraid.
    • One thing I don't see mentioned here is the issue of some kind of proof you are who you say you are before you vote. In my opinion thats as much an issue as counting correctly, but it seems to be ignored. Why?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BlueStrat ( 756137 )
        "One thing I don't see mentioned here is the issue of some kind of proof you are who you say you are before you vote. In my opinion thats as much an issue as counting correctly, but it seems to be ignored. Why?"

        Because the Democrats have largely been successful in pettifogging and demagoguing the issue so that in the publics' mind, asking for ID==discrimination. No politician can afford, especially when their party is in a major election cycle, to be accused, however falsely, of discrimination. The Democrat
        • by dwye ( 1127395 )

          The Democrats have been increasingly using the tactic of busing in homeless people and illegal aliens to vote, sometimes across multiple districts, over the last 20 to 30 years.

          What? They stopped doing that before 1980? That is the classical behavior of Tammany Hall and the Chicago Machine (bums used to grow their hair before Election Day, so that they could shave part off before revisiting the election site, impersonating another dead man).

          Of course, before we Republicans get all self righteous, it sho

          • What? They stopped doing that before 1980?

            Yes, I'm well aware of the long history on both sides. I was just reporting my actual experiences and observations. I'm not aware of any Republican shenanigans of the same type in the same time frame and areas as I reported on. There were most certainly Republican vote shenanigans going on, no doubt..I just never observed them personally. Given the atmosphere and my experiences, I'm also sure that whatever shenanigans the Republicans pulled had to be a lot more low-
      • I think it's ignored because when it's been investigated it's never been found to be much of a problem. There have been a few isolated cases but I don't think it's ever been shown to be enough to change an election.
    • Verifiable Elections? Of course the Bush admin is against that.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If the public would just take the leaders their given instead of trying to choose their own, then maybe we'd get somewhere!

    What, trampled under foot is a place, isn't it?
  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) * on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @06:14PM (#23083144) Homepage
    In all seriousness now, wouldn't it just be easier to call up Diebold on November 4 and ask them who won? Think of all the time and money we'd save.
  • Crucially Broken (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @06:21PM (#23083198) Homepage Journal

    Crucially, the change to paper is opt-in, making it possible for local jurisdictions to govern their own choices

    Yes, that is crucial. Because in the jurisdictions that are running rigged elections, that don't want to leave evidence of their rigging, or are just getting bribed by crappy non-verifiable voting machine vendors to buy the crap, despite how it fails any reasonable quality test, those jurisdictions don't have to change anything.

    A good bill would require opt-out, and only subject to some accountability, like a judge's decision that there are extenuating circumstances, or a (paper trail) vote by the people in the jurisdiction.

    I mean, who else but a crooked politicial or a salesperson for a crooked or broken machine could possibly have a reason to opt out, when it's all paid for by the Feds (you and me)? What kind of priorities put anything above the integrity and respectability of our most essential link to democracy, the counting of our votes?
    • And how! It's like saying-

      We're going to install this fancy security system at the bank, so we can identify anybody who tries to rob the bank. But before you enter the building, make sure you *opt-in* so that we can catch you in the act, otherwise, we'll make sure not to watch or verify your presence.

      This sounds like the most rediculous non-answer I've ever heard to a real problem.
    • by Irvu ( 248207 )
      Good Opt-Out bills have been tried Noteably HR 811 which failed explicitly because it was opt in and the budget hawks attacked it as a waste of money while the National Association of County Commissioners, a lobby group for the voting machine makers, claimed it was a big government attack on county territory.

      All those groups claimed a willingness to support an opt-in version. None of them stepped up to the plate today though.
      • Ummm...I think you've got some (all) of your facts wrong. HR811 was a mandate, you couldn't opt in or out. That is the largest reason it was opposed by many state and local groups including the National Conference of State Legislatures [] and National Association of Counties (none of which are voting machine maker lobbyists). I encourage you to read their words why the opposed it. (seems like they have some decent reasons)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )
          Their claims, if true, sound reasonable:

          H.R. 811 runs contrary to the fundamental cornerstone of (HAVA) which is state flexibility in implementation of federal election reform mandates. H.R. 811 sets very specific standards for paper trail and audit procedures that currently don't exist in any state. It requires "durable" paper for paper trail receipts and calls for random audits of federal elections and creates a private right of action against a state for perceived violations. H.R. 811 also requires st

        • by Irvu ( 248207 )
          NACO or the National Association of County Officials [] is what you refer to. NACO includes a Premier Corporate Membership [] program which allows companies to become members of the group. Microsoft, one of the members was heavily opposed to the bill (Windows CE is in the Diebold systems) and got NACO to lobby on their behalf.
          • It's NACo, the National Association of Counties, not the "National Association of County Officials." Yes NACo is a 501(c)(4), but they represent 2000 US counties, the folks that actually have to try and fulfill all these federal mandates and describing them as a Microsoft lackey is absurd.
            Microsoft had nothing to do with the NACo's decision to oppose HR811. The NACo Board of Directors adopted a resolution expressing their concerns over it, which primarily related to do with HR811's mandates for paper recor
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by omega_dk ( 1090143 )
      View it like this: if there is a significant discrepancy between voting trends in paper-ballot w/ audit counties, and those that decided not to opt-in, those counties may have an angry electorate on their hands that would demand an explanation.

      If they can't offer a suitable explanation due to a lack of a paper trail because they decided not to accept free money from the feds... well, I am not going to say they *would* be in trouble because the American Electorate is notorious for not caring, but there wo
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )
        Like in Florida? Funny how that never happens. People just get discouraged, bitter and cynical. That's what the crooks count on. And so far, they're winning.
  • No surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stonecypher ( 118140 ) <> on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @06:26PM (#23083248) Homepage Journal
    The president whose election tallies were never counted, in the closest election we've had in more than a century, doesn't want verifiable voting. I wonder why.

    Tin foil hats won't cover this one. :(
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Here's the content of the Sample letter:

    Honorable Members of the Pennsylvania Delegation
    United States House of Representatives
    Washington, D.C.

    Ladies and Gentlemen:
    As organizations and individuals representing Pennsylvania, we are writing to urge your co-sponsorship and continued support of HR 5036, the Emergency Election Assistance for Secure Elections Act, recently introduced by Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey.

    This "opt-in", voluntary bill will provide federal money for states and counties to protect the inte

  • by mepperpint ( 790350 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @06:33PM (#23083292)
    This showed up a little bit late. The bill failed to pass [] 239-178 with 14 not voting. While this is a 55% vote in favor, it required a 2/3 supermajority to pass due to a motion to suspend the rules.
    • Damn, thanks for the heads up, but this really sucks. In CO we had most of our voting machines de-certified (I believe some have since been re-approved for use) but I was looking forward to a verifiable vote here (most our county clerks can't afford to print paper ballots without assistance from somewhere).
      Very disappointing.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Wow, just look at those results! It was essentially a party roll call. Hopefully things will slide a little further toward the "D" side next year, and we just might see bills like this made into law.
      • Wow, just look at those results! It was essentially a party roll call.

        Notice that "Dr. No" also voted against it. Ron Paul is NOT going to base his vote on trying to improve or preserve election cheating.

        That says to me that there's an issue with the Federal Government exceeding its constitutional authority by meddling in the states' election procedures (which ARE the (states' business), there's some "devil in the details" that makes it do the opposite of what it claims, or it's a feel-good-do-nothing bill
        • That says to me that there's an issue with the Federal Government exceeding its constitutional authority by meddling in the states' election procedures..

          That situation has already occurred several thousand times over with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which further aided in privatizing the American voting process - and it shouldn't be the states' business until real and ethical voting rights are put back into place so that the electorate can finally experience an honest election: not a phony election

    • However, amazingly enough my Congresscritter, Howard "Berman the Ermine" Berman (D-MAFIAA) was an aye vote. He was also a co-sponsor. He takes some ridiculous stances for his Big Media patrons, but when I'm ready to tell him to go Cheney himself, he does something like this.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Let's get one thing straight: Rep. Holt is anti-voting technology. If it were up to the Representative, we would have absolutely zero voting electronics. Why is a community like Slashdot supporting such a thing? We are supposed to be the people supporting technology.

    Why do we want paper ballots? Are they really more secure? Absolutely not!! How easy is it to throw ballots in a river or forge them? A six-year old can do it for God's sake! In contrast, how many people can really hack an election? How
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Murrquan ( 1161441 )
      Maybe the Slashdotters are against voting machines because they actually understand the machines' limitations, and potential for misuse without traces of tampering.
    • by et764 ( 837202 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @09:47PM (#23085020)

      One reason I'm a fan of paper ballots is that you don't need a degree in Computer Science to understand how they work. Just about any second grader could devise a paper ballot system, which means almost everyone not denied the right to vote can easily reason about whether the system works the way it's supposed to. They don't have to trust experts to be able to trust the voting system.

      Just because we're the Slashdot community doesn't mean we should be in favor at gratuitously throwing more technology at everything. Some things are better done the old-fashioned way.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by RobBebop ( 947356 )

        Some things are better done the old-fashioned way.

        That's right. Voting and sex. For everything else, a computer a guaranteed to provide an improvement in speed, quality, or reproducibility.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stephanruby ( 542433 )

      We are supposed to be the people supporting technology.

      You've got it backwards. Technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

      How easy is it to throw ballots in a river or forge them? A six-year old can do it for God's sake! In contrast, how many people can really hack an election?

      With paper, you would need many six-year olds to rig an election. With technology, you may only need one six year old adept at Visual Basic to hack the elections (Yes, Diebold uses Visual Basic for Applications). With pa

    • by rsborg ( 111459 )

      Why is a community like Slashdot supporting such a thing? We are supposed to be the people supporting technology.
      Perhaps technology is not a panacea for everything. Pushing technology as the solution to every problem is just as bad as saying C++ is the best language for all occasions. Both are examples of "hammer-wielders seeing every problem as a nail".
    • Because amazingly paper ballots leave these things called 'paper trails.' Electronic voting, on the other hand, tends to be very lax in that capacity.
  • by InternetVoting ( 809563 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @06:51PM (#23083492) Homepage
    In general it's not a bad bill. I'm not sure I agree with the conclusion that throwing paper at the problems will fix everything and the fact that it allows jurisdictions to opt-in is a very big step, I just hope people do paper ballots right not just paper for paper's sake.

    It's a little scary seeing the pretty wide authority given to a single federal agency with not a lot of regulation. Eligibility isn't particularly clearly defined. I think in general retrofitting DRE's with VVPAT, particularly in time for November, has a huge potential for causing more harm than good. It's nice to see we've stopped the fairly phony "verified vs. verifiable" debate. My reading says anyone who by state law has to count emergency paper ballots as provisional is ineligible for that portion. For all the requirements there are for the audit section, I'd like to see some in there for handling paper ballots. How about teaching people about ballot design, chain of custody...?

    I think it's great that we're expressing the need for research. I'm interested on NIST's input on how feasible this is and more interested on what the actual dollar figures end up at.
    • Nahhh, it would be vetoed by our educated president who would think this would place an unbearable burden on our budget.
    • by Irvu ( 248207 )
      CBO Cost estimates are linked from the bill description on Thomas. Click on the first link in the story.

      As to NIST, well when asked they stated that the only trustworthy systems are ones that can be verified independently of the technology and to date only systems equipped with a VVPAT provide that as all the other proposed ones (e.g. Prime III) at some point require faith in preexaminations.

      NIST, like most sensible people does not trust advance explanations to cover all cases.
      • Yes, I understand the CBO guesses around $1 million, but CBO estimates are by no means a guarantee. The federal government doesn't have a great track record with funding the research provisions in reform bills. (HAVA still hasn't been fully funded, largely the research aspects) NIST isn't a person and NIST has made no such statements. If you're referring to the Draft White Paper on SI, that was largely dismissed and did not represent NIST policy. If not, please cite your reference.
  • Pointless (Score:2, Troll)

    by cdrguru ( 88047 )
    It is pointless to consider "paper" ballots in any real way. Any election that takes longer than about 12 hours is going to be "called on account of time" by the news services. They will announce a winner, based on exit polling, other polling, the way the wind is blowing and the entrails of a calf. But by God they are going to release the name of the winner before everyone goes to bed.

    Look at 2000 - Gore was announced as the winner by CBS. Then, later, that announcement was retracted but there are peopl
    • Canada does just fine with paper ballots. After the polls close we get running tallies on CBC as the votes are counted on election night. It's not rocket science.

      The problem is not paper ballots; the problem is with the people running the show.

  • by MSTCrow5429 ( 642744 ) on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @07:17PM (#23083710)
    Is this really an appropriate fashion to present such content, via full endorsement and support by ./?
    • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Tuesday April 15, 2008 @07:33PM (#23083888) Homepage

      I've been here for quite a few years. I think maybe 9.

      Since when has /. not lobbied for certain things?

      Democrats, liberals, net neutrality, voter verified paper trails, and tons more. This has only increased (unsurprisingly) since the Politics section was created (which helped reduce the S/N on the other bits). Slashdot has been quite vocal in various things (like almost anything anti-Bush) for years and years.

      All that said, this is a private website. They can lobby for whatever they want. That story went through the firehose (or at least other copied did) and was quite popular. Readers seem to want to discuss it as well.

      • They haven't openly lobbied for anything to the point of actually posting "how-to lobby your Congressman" notes.

        Um, yes, that's general idea behind private property...

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Nethead ( 1563 )
          Actually they are telling you to get off your ass and be a citizen. They have been doing that since I've been visiting the site.
          • Being a citizen isn't about being led around by the nose by /.. As for being an active citizen, I'm certainly not someone they need to be working on, and using /. to direct the clueless ones is a bit unnerving. Unless the implication is that the only way to be a "good" citizen is to nod your head as you march in line to /.'s drums.
            • by Nethead ( 1563 )
              I very much doubt that Malda would consider himself a political leader rousing the geek-sheep to fight for his causes. Clueless ones will be directed by someone anyway, be they political, religious or commercial. One way to get the clueless clued in is to get them active directly with the system so that they may more clearly see how it works and what the adoption of their platform would mean within the larger picture. That takes time, dedication and a willingness to modify ones views. Civilization is a l
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by MSTCrow5429 ( 642744 )
                I think judging a bill based solely on what is "best for you and your community" is a wrongful approach. First, one must ask themselves, "is this bill Constitutional under the strictly enumerated powers given to the Federal government?" If not, then obviously the bill is unconstitutional, and should be dismissed out of hand. If it is Constitutional, the second question to ask is "does this bill limit individual rights and liberties?" If yes, then it should be dismissed as an instrument of tyranny. Then
  • so are you saying that this bill is actually an attempt to make elections MORE HONEST? Let's stick to the rules, guys: if you name the bill the "Secure Elections Act", I expect it to be an Orwellian attempt to deliver all state control to the shadowy members of the PNAC.
  • Ironic questions aside.. in 30 years, the only people still maintaining illusions about the truth behind the 2000 and 2004 elections will be the lingering remnants of the once significant horde who were easily swayed by an overweight radio personality.
  • The loophole in this bill is that it is allows states to slap printers onto the election machines and claim that they have paper trails. Unfortunately that doesn't really solve the core problem.

    I discussed this over email with some people at TrueVoteMD [] and their opinion was that, at least for Maryland, that didn't matter since our voting machines don't even have ports for printers. It still kinda scared me though.
    • At the end of the night, the results are printed (from the diebold machines) in paper. Also, you get a paper copy of that allows you to vote, and I don't think that anything significant happens if you ask a second to be printed. I worked the primaries, and as far as I can tell, the only difference between those and the general election is that party affiliation is not asked.
  • You know, I am not the person always gung-ho about open source technology, but I do believe that open source software and hardware is the only way to have electronic voting work. It's the only way to get enough peer-review so that all sides and all parties can be assured it would be tamper-proof. Any private entity is the exact opposite, since they have no requirement, and often the exact opposite incentive to make it tamper-proof, so therefore the devices are more likely to "deliver" the votes the compan
    • Open source isn't the answer. How can you ever know that the code you're running is truly the open source code you validated unless you compile and install it yourself (I'm talking about every voter here)? How can you know for sure that the OS or BIOS isn't corrupted somehow? If you're going to use software in the election process then the process needs to be designed in such a way that it doesn't matter if the code is open or closed source.
  • Is the vote a right or a duty?, this is where in IMO you should start. If you consider it a right, then you've already lost, irrespective of technology. Voting is a duty and failing to do so should result in penalties.

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.