September 4, 2007 | By Matt Zimmerman

Crunch Time for E-voting Reform

If all goes as planned, HR 811 -- the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, introduced by New Jersey Representative Rush Holt -- will finally come to a floor vote in the House of Representatives this week, likely on Thursday or Friday. Despite speculation to the contrary, it is not at all clear whether the bill will pass or, even if it does, whether a substantively similar companion bill will then pass the Senate. Like it or not, with election officials arguing that they're running out of time to implement wholesale changes, this likely amounts to Congress's only attempt to make any serious improvements to the nation's election procedures ahead of the 2008 presidential election.

EFF supports HR 811 and hopes that you will tell your Representative to support it as well. As we have done over the years through the bill's various incarnations, EFF has supported HR 811 based on what the bill would actually do, not what it lacks. At the end of the day, a post-HR 811 electoral system would indisputably (despite arguments to the contrary) be better than the one that exists today. EFF has discussed this in detail before: from where we sit, banning the use of paperless direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines if they are not retrofitted with voter-verified paper ballots (VVPATs) and mandating for the first time across-the-board audits of federal elections would unquestionably be good things which continue to deserve support, regardless of whether or not we'd like to see additional improvements.

Are DREs, even those utilizing VVPATs, fraught with problems? Of course. Should more rigorous audits be mandated? Absolutely. But a heartfelt desire to ban DREs or improve audits is no reason to oppose this bill, especially since states are not prohibited from making either of these reforms -- or nearly any other voting system-related reform -- on their own.

Our support for HR 811 is tempered by profound disappointment that one of the bill's pillars has been watered down to the point of ineffectiveness due to pressure from the proprietary software industry. The source code disclosure provisions, requiring that voting system source code be disclosed at the very least to litigants and other "qualified persons" who can test the integrity of the voting system under a non-disclosure agreement, have since the bill's introduction been replaced by a requirement that "voting system software" -- a definition that does not explicitly include source code -- be disclosed. While "correcting" language was included in the Committee Report as a result of prompt feedback from computer security experts after the bill's current language was released, that Report will likely not be sufficient to ensure source code access. Having litigated cases in which prompt access to voting system source code is critical, EFF's strong advocacy for this bill has been based in large part on the source code disclosure requirement. We call on Rep. Zoe Lofgren and the other members of the Elections Subcommittee to promptly fix this provision -- using the explicit language included in the Committee Report -- before the bill makes it to the floor of the House.

Whatever its shortcomings, whatever its incremental pace, HR 811 offers an important step forward. EFF continues to call for more ambitious reform than that offered by the current version of the bill, but we also properly recognize that HR 811 offers the best immediate opportunity for meaningful change. It needs your support today. Without it, be prepared to live with no additional federal protections for the 2008 election as we all return to square one with a new bill targeted at the 2010 or 2012 general election.


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