The 2000 election created a groundswell of demand for election reform, which resulted in the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002 (HAVA). HAVA was considered a significant advancement in election reform, and provided funding for the improvement of election administration and replacement of obsolete voting equipment. However, HAVA had an unintended consequence: it fueled a headlong rush to purchase electronic voting systems without at the same time mandating meaningful security requirements for such systems.
Representative Holt talking with Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller
Rep. Holt talks with Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller about Nevada's paper trail voting system at the "Voting in 2004: A Report to the Nation" conference in December 2004.
In November 2004, as many as 50 million voters (and as many as one million in Ohio's ten largest counties alone) cast their ballots on electronic voting machines that lacked a voter-verified paper audit trail. As a result, there is no way to resolve questions about reported tallies. In February 2005, I reintroduced a bill, The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (H.R. 811) which would mandate an independent audit mechanism - a voter verified paper record - for all voting systems. Anything of value should be auditable. Votes are valuable, and each voter should have the knowledge--and the confidence--that his or her vote was recorded and counted as intended. Passage of this bill will be a big step in restoring that confidence, which is the very foundation of our democratic republic. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office confirmed the risks associated with unauditable electronic voting machines, and the bipartisan Commission On Federal Election Reform explicitly endorsed the requirement for voter-verified paper records, each in reports issued in September 2005.
I will continue to fight for independently auditable elections, but my interest in election reform is much broader.
As we've learned from previous elections, there are still people in the country who try to prevent their fellow citizens from voting so that their party or candidate can win. Both parties have an interest in making sure that the federal government has a zero tolerance policy for that kind of conduct. To address this problem, on December 7, 2005 I introduced the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, a House version of the bill offered by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act would establish harsh penalties for the perpetration of such deceptive acts. In particular, it would:
* Prohibit anyone from "knowingly deceiving any other person" regarding the time, place, or manner of conducting any federal election, or regarding qualifications or restrictions on eligibility to vote;
* Provide voters with a private right of action to seek relief from deceptive practices;
* Preempt the negative effects of deceptive practices by requiring the Department of Justice to provide voters with accurate election information when allegations of deceptive practices are confirmed;
* Require the Attorney General, in collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission and the Election Assistance Commission, to study the feasibility of using public service announcements, the emergency alert system, or other forms of public broadcast, to provide corrective election information;
* Require the Attorney General, after each federal election, to report on the allegations of deceptive practices, the actions taken to correct deceptive practices, and any prosecutions resulting from allegations of deceptive practices; and
* Provide a criminal penalty for engaging in deceptive practices, with penalties of up to $100,000 or one year imprisonment or both.
Voter intimidation and deception undermines the very foundation of our democracy, and I look forward to working with Senator Obama to secure swift passage of this and other vital election reform measures.
Another piece of major voting legislation I've offered is the Electoral Fairness Act of 2006. This comprehensive bill addresses inequities in equipment distribution and polling place waiting times, and adds protections for voters in the registration process. It addresses the irregularities that were most widely reported in 2004. I want to make sure that no voter, regardless of race, gender, physical ability, or party affiliation, is disenfranchised in future elections.
The Electoral Fairness Act addresses three broad problem areas by clarifying the rules governing provisional ballots; ensuring adequate staffing and equipment at polling places; and promoting the effective registration of voters. Some of the key features of the bill:
* States would be required to count provisional ballots cast in Presidential and Senate races if cast in the correct State, and for Congressional races if cast in the correct Congressional district, to notify voters who cast provisional ballots within 24 hours as to whether or not their ballots were counted, and to establish procedures (including 8 hours of open office hours the next day) under which voters whose provisional ballots were not counted may challenge that determination.
* Polling place capacities are limited, and minimum numbers of voting systems and back-up and support supplies are mandated at each polling place on Election Day to ensure that all voters will be able to vote conveniently and that none will have to wait more than an hour to do so; States are required to report within 7 days of an election as to how they met these and other voter service requirements.
* Requires that all registered voters be issued, for free, durable voter registration cards including their name and address; voters may use these cards to prove that they are registered if election officials tell them they are not. The bill does not create an additional ID requirement, and producing the voter registration card is not a pre-requisite to voting. Federal funds are authorized to defray the cost to the States of issuing the cards.
The biggest casualty of flawed elections is the public trust. If we want to reverse public cynicism about the validity of our elections, we need to ensure that voters have easy access to well-staffed and well-equipped polling places, and that paper back-up systems are in place where electronic voting machines are used. For our system to work, every voter must have access, and all voters must leave the polling location confident that their votes will be counted as they intended.
Additional information on my election and voting reform efforts, as well as links to information on these issues, can be found below.