Election Reform Picks Up Steam

By David Bruggeman
February 8, 2007

Election reform was an active issue during the past ten days. Legislation was introduced, a hearing held on electronic voting, and the Election Assistance Commission decided to implement its full testing and certification program for voting systems in early March.

Two pieces of electronic voting legislation have been introduced in the House. HR 756, the E-Poll Book Improvement Act of 2007, was introduced on January 31 by Representative DeGette (D-Colorado). You can read the full text of the bill online. The legislation would require the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to develop and adopt guidelines for electronic poll books in the same way the EAC is obligated to do so for voting systems. While Rep. DeGette has not been at the forefront of voting reform legislation, she represents Denver and many of its suburbs. You may remember the trouble the Denver area experienced with electronic poll books in the November 2006 election. Part of the problem appears to be due to a lack of sufficient testing, and this is a likely motivation for her legislation.

Representative Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), a persistent champion of e-voting reform, introduced his latest version of a paper trail bill on February 5. Entitled the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, this is a more detailed piece of legislation that Rep. Holt’s previous efforts. You can read the bill online (PDF). As with Holt’s previous efforts, this bill would amend the Help America Vote Act to require a voter-verified paper audit trail, or VVPAT. There is a great deal of additional technical information and requirements in this version. We will post a more detailed assessment of this bill and its political context in upcoming days.

On February 7, the Senate Rules Committee held a hearing on “The Hazards of Electronic Voting: Focus on the Machinery of Democracy”. There is an archived webcast available (though it’s unclear for how long). Committee Chair Feinstein (D-California) said this would be the first of a series of hearings on election reform. Witnesses at the hearing were:

  • The Honorable Bill Nelson, United States Senate
  • The Honorable Rush D. Holt, United States House of Representatives
  • Mr. David Becker, Senior Attorney, People for the American Way
  • Mr. Brit Williams, Professor Emeritus, Kennesaw State University
  • Professor Dan Wallach, Rice University
  • Ms. Conny McCormack, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Los Angeles County
  • Mr. Warren Stewart, Policy Director,Vote Trust USA
  • Ms. Connie Schmidt, President, Election Consulting Services
  • Mr. Michael Waldman, Executive Director, Brennan Center for Justice

Their statements can be accessed from the hearing link noted above.

Only Senator Feinstein and Ranking Member Bennett (R-Utah), attended the hearing for the entire time. Senators Pryor (D-Arkansas), Nelson (D-Nebraska) and Lott (R-Mississippi) appeared briefly. While the House is handling the formal contest of the election in Florida’s 13th District, it was hard for the Senators to avoid discussion of the undervotes in Sarasota. They will defer to the House for action on that race. Senator Feinstein indicated she would ask the General Accountability Office and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to investigate the machines involved in Sarasota. She also said there would be Senate legislation introduced within a week or so similar to Rep. Holt’s legislation.

While there was discussion about paper trails, and the challenges various jurisdicition have had with the paper trails currently in use, there was strong encouragement from many of the witnesses to include other issues in election reform. One of them was ballot design, which is an issue in Sarasota and has prompted confusion in other places (as Senator Bennett noted when he voted recently). Another issue emphasized in testimony and questions was training for election workers. State elections officials noted repeatedly that proper training of poll workers and careful maintenance of ballot control throughout the chain of custody are very productive, and are as important to assuring reliable elections as the nature of the voting machines.

Finally, the Election Assistance Commission met today, February 8. The major part of their agenda dealt with status reports about the EAC’s Interim Laboratory Accreditation Program and the new EAC/NVLAP (National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program) program for certifying testing laboratories. You can read more about the meeting online, including testimony about the Eagleton-Moritz report concerning voter ID requirements and voter turnout; and the ongoing state audits over the proper accounting of federal funds from the Help America Vote Act.

Of most relevance to our readers, the EAC decided to end the interim lab accreditation program effective March 5. This means that any pending applications at that time would need to be resubmitted through the EAC/NVLAP process. Similarly, as of March 5, any systems seeking federal certification (either new systems, modifications to existing systems, or systems seeking certification to new guidelines) will need to apply through that process. EAC staff testified that the current review of CIBER, Inc. – prompted by concerns noted on our blog – will be resolved by that point, as the company’s deadline for responding to the EAC is February 15. Existing certifications under previous standards (such as the NASED organized testing) will not be grandfathered into the new program.