June 9, 2005 | By Matt Zimmerman

From the Front Lines: Ups and Downs in the Fight For HR 550

As expected, citizen lobbyists today encountered a range of responses, both positive and negative, to their efforts to push for the passage of HR 550. Mark Fresolone, a NJ activist, thinks that the lobbying effort is making headway but also that political maneuvering and misinformation continue to slow progress.

Falling into the "encouraging" column was his meeting with Democratic Senator John Corzine from New Jersey, whose staff, says Fresolone, understands not only the importance of verifiable voting but also the need to support strong legislation specifically like HR 550. A range of voting-reform bills currently exist in the Senate, ranging from a weak bill sponsored by Senator Dodd (D-CT) to a stronger bill sponsored by Senator Ensign (R-NV). Corzine's staff indicated a clear preference for the latter, and also noted that the possibility existed (and efforts were underway to push) for new bipartisan legislation in the Senate that more closely mirrors the language of HR 550.

Somewhat less encouraging was a series of meetings with House staffers who expressed Representative opinions ranging from the misinformed to the obstructionist. The staff of Representative Robert Menendez (R-NJ) reiterated his previously voiced concerns about allowing voters to take home "paper receipts" from the polling place, although HR 550 would do no such thing. Representative Scott Garrett (R-NJ) apparently holds firm to the notion that HR 550 is simply unconstitutional (for some reason) and there is no chance that he will support it.

What to take from such encounters? Rep. Garrett's response seems to indicate a wholesale unwillingness to attempt to address this important issue, so it's probably in the lobbyists' best interest to move on to a more engaged audience. But Rep. Menendez's position, while inexcusably light on facts for someone taking public positions on subjects of proposed legislation, is probably more widespread than activists may think. That Representatives like Menendez are willing to be informed on the issue may actually bode well for the long-term health of this bill.

Fresolone also met with staffers for Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-NJ) who indicated a not-infrequently-heard reluctance to mandate a technological solution that complicates voting. Much of the national debate on the voter-verified paper trail (VVPT) issue falls somewhere in this broad category. Aren't we doing more harm than good, the argument goes, if we saddle local election officials with complicated regulations? Or confuse voters with strange interfaces? Legitimate questions, but ones that for the most part fall away with education. As Fresolone rightly pointed out to Ferguson staffers, a major benefit of VVPT-equipped voting machines is that confusion is decreased in many important ways. Paper-trail machines effectively operate as accessible, simple-to-use pencils that create easily reviewable ballots, a process that will be easier for voters and election officials alike. And, of course, paper trails create a streamlined method for auditing votes that isn't impeded by chads, stray pencil marks, or hidden, proprietary electronic calculations.

Will Congress be convinced? Time will tell, but at least at the moment, many members appear to at least be listening.

Click here to tell your member of Congress to support HR 550!

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