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Caution on Election Reform Urged

Congressional sponsors of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 cautioned their colleagues that ongoing efforts to amend the law to deal with security issues could do more harm than good.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter last week, Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) warned against a rush to judgment on HAVA, urging lawmakers to let the new Election Assistance Commission examine issues related to the security of electronic voting systems.

“Not only are such proposals premature, but they would undermine essential HAVA provisions, such as the disability and language minority access requirements, and could result in more, rather than less, voter disenfranchisement and error,” the principal authors of HAVA wrote.

Last May, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) introduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003, which would amend HAVA to require that voting systems produce a permanent paper record that could be verified by a voter at the time the vote is cast and preserved in case a later manual audit is deemed necessary.

As numerous experts have voiced concern about security issues associated with computer-based voting systems, the bill has gained considerable steam, attracting 125 co-sponsors in the House. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) introduced identical companion legislation in the Senate last December.

“HAVA could have an adverse, unintended consequence,” Holt said last spring, explaining his rationale behind the bill. “It is fueling a headlong rush by states and localities to purchase computer voting systems that suffer from a serious flaw. It generates suspicion about the voting. You, the voter, have no way of knowing if your vote is recorded as you intended.”

“That is why hundreds of nationally renowned computer scientists, including David Dill of Stanford University, consider a voter-verified paper trail to be a critical safeguard for the accuracy, integrity and security of computer-assisted elections,” Holt continued. “Without a physical record of votes cast, how will election officials in 2004 be able to launch an effective, honest recount in a closely contested election? How will they be able to ensure that a computer hacker has not tampered with votes?”

Ney, Hoyer, McConnell and Dodd said that “the proposals mandating a voter-verified paper record would essentially take the most advanced generations of election technologies and systems available and reduce them to little more than ballot printers.”

They urged that those entities charged with addressing security concerns should be left to do so “before Congress begins imposing new requirements, just months before the 2004 presidential and Congressional elections, that have not been fully considered.”

Under HAVA, a Technical Guidelines Development Committee, chaired by the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, was established to assist the EAC in developing new guidelines to ensure the reliability of electronic voting systems.

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