Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Panel recommends paper trail for electronic voting

I can't imagine why the electronic voting machines wouldn't have paper trails...

From USA Today:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring that Americans are losing confidence in elections, a commission formed to improve balloting is recommending electronic voting machines that leave a paper trail.

Former President Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, the panel's co-leaders, cited the loss of confidence in a report they were to deliver Monday to President Bush and Congress.
"While we do not face a crisis today, we need to address the problems of our electoral system," they said.

The private commission, created to suggest ways to improve the electoral process, also favors four regional primaries to be held after the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. The commission recommends Congress legislate the change if political parties don't change the system by 2008.

The current system picks nominees so quickly that voters in many states don't get to consider the options, the commission said.

Also, states should develop registration systems that allow easy checks of voters from one state to another and the purging of outdated voter records, according to the report by the bipartisan panel.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report, which makes 87 recommendations, before its submission to Bush and Congress.

The Commission on Federal Election Reform had to balance concerns about better access for voters and worries about preventing voter fraud.

Voter confidence dropped after the 2000 presidential election between Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The outcome was delayed for weeks because of problems with ballots in Florida.

Congress responded with the Help America Vote Act, signed into law in 2002, that allowed spending of several billion dollars to help states update voting systems, streamline voter registration and provide voter and poll worker education.

Yet in the 2004 race between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, there were claims of voting problems, especially in Ohio. Complaints included limited access to voting machines, difficulties finding proper voting precincts and the accuracy of vote totals in precincts using electronic machines.

"Many of the recommendations build on the Help America Vote Act, while correcting its vagueness and limitations," said Robert Pastor, executive director of the commission, which was organized by American University.
Among the commission's recommendations:
• Congress should pass a law requiring voter-verifiable paper audit trails on all electronic voting machines.
• States should require voters to present photo IDs and offer free photo IDs to those who don't have drivers' licenses.
• The presidential primary system should be reorganized into four regional primaries, held after the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. A regional primary would take place each month from March to June.
• All "legitimate domestic and international election observers" should be granted unrestricted access to the election process, within the rules of the election.
• News organizations should voluntarily refrain from projecting any presidential election results in any state until all polls have closed in all states but Alaska and Hawaii.
• States should prohibit senior election officials from serving or assisting political campaigns in a partisan way.
• States should establish uniform procedures for the counting of provisional ballots, which voters can use when there are questions about their registration.

The commission's work was organized by the American University Center for Democracy and Election Management, in association with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, the Carter Center and Electionline.org.

Now I do trust Jimmy Carter, but James A. Baker III was the guy who led the fight to stop vote counting in 2000!
The New York Times has an Op-Ed about how the recomendations could hurt:

Denying Access to the Ballot
It has been clear since 2000 that the election system is in serious need of reform. But the commission led by James Baker III and former President Jimmy Carter has come up with a plan that is worse than no reform at all. Its good ideas are outweighed by one very bad idea: a voter identification requirement that would prevent large numbers of poor, black and elderly people from voting.

The commission makes helpful recommendations. It favors requiring electronic voting machines to produce paper records, and opposes partisan activity by state election officials. It fails to address other problems, like not counting provisional ballots cast at the wrong precincts.

But the bombshell recommendation is for the states to require voters to have drivers' licenses or a government-issued photo ID. That would not be a great burden for people who have drivers' licenses, but it would be for those who don't, and they are disproportionately poor, elderly or members of minorities. These voters would have to get special photo ID's and keep them updated. If they didn't have the ID's, their right to vote would be taken away. The commission recommends that the cards be free. But election administration is notoriously underfinanced, and it is not hard to imagine that states would charge for them. Georgia is already charging $20 and more for each of its state voter cards.

There is very little evidence of voters' claiming to be people they are not, and the commission admits that its members are divided about how big a problem it is. But the report goes on to say that even if there is just a small amount of fraud, it should be stopped. True, but if the solution risks disenfranchising hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of voters, it is a very bad reform.

There are more reasonable approaches. The states could require uniform ID's, but allow each voter without one to sign an affidavit attesting to his or her identity, a system some states use now. It is little wonder that a dissent came from the former Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, a commission member. He said that "for some, the commission's ID proposal constitutes nothing short of a modern-day poll tax."

The disappointing report made public yesterday was not a complete surprise. There have been red flags waving around the commission for some time; Mr. Baker is remembered by many for his fierce fight to stop the counting of votes in Florida in 2000. There have also been complaints about the commission's process. Spencer Overton, a George Washington University law professor and commission member, complains that he was told he had to limit a dissent on complicated voting issues to just 250 words.

The purpose of election reform should not be making it harder to vote. We all have a duty to make our election system as good as it can be - and not to disenfranchise people in the name of reform.


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