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Activists to Rally on Ensuring Paper Trail for Ballots

Proponents of a voter-verified, paper-ballot trail are stepping up their pressure on Congress this week to act on legislation they believe will require the only foolproof method to protect election results from unsecured or unreliable electronic voting equipment.

Activists with True Majority — a liberal group spearheaded by Ben & Jerry’s ice cream co-founder Ben Cohen, along with, Rock the Vote and Common Cause — have organized a rally today to coincide with a noon press conference on the Cannon Terrace, where Reps. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.) will call for the passage of their Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003.

The bill, which counts 141 co-sponsors, would require that all electronic voting machines produce a voter-verified paper record by the November elections.

The plan has encountered significant opposition from House leaders who engineered the successful Help America Vote Act of 2002 — the election-reform legislation that paved the way for an overhaul of the nation’’s voting equipment.

Matt Holland and Mark Floegel, coordinators True Majority’s Computer Ate My Vote Campaign, e-mailed their group’s members last week, asking them to turn out today to show their support for Holt’s bill.

“Members of Congress need to see citizens on the doorstep of the Capitol, supporting H.R. 2239 and other voter-verified paper ballot legislation, and telling them that we want to know for sure that our votes count,” Holland and Floegel wrote.

Supporters of the Holt approach also got a boost earlier this month when delegates at the League of Women Voters convention dropped their endorsement of paperless electronic voting machines, instead adopting a resolution that supported “voting systems and procedures that are secure, accurate, recountable and accessible.”

While the LWV stopped short of endorsing a voter-verified paper trail, the group’s backtracking alarmed some advocates for people with disabilities, who are concerned that overblown concerns about vote tampering or electronic equipment failures could jeopardize voting accessibility.

Among the groups that oppose voter-verified paper trails most vigorously are the American Association of People with Disabilities and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

“Voter-verified paper ballots are not only unnecessary — they constitute a major threat to the modernization of the nation’s obsolete voting system,” Jim Dickson, the vice president for governmental affairs of the American Association of People with Disabilities, argued in a statement.

Those concerns were echoed in a March letter that Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) sent to their fellow Members.

“Various proposals have been introduced in the House and Senate, but a common feature of these bills is they would amend HAVA to require that all voting systems, including electronic and computer-based systems, produce or accommodate a ‘voter verified paper record,’” the lawmakers wrote.

They argued that such proposals are “premature” and would “undermine essential HAVA provisions, such as the requirements for disability and language minority access requirements, and could result in more, rather than less, voter disenfranchisement and error.”

But such groups as Common Cause, a leader in both campaign-finance reform and election-reform battles in Congress, have taken a firm line in favor of requiring paper trails. The group argues that in the age of electronic voting machines, Holt’s bill is a necessity for ensuring the integrity of the elections process.

“Common Cause shares the view of a growing number of Americans who have serious concerns about the reliability and security of new touch-screen voting machines,” Common Cause President Chellie Pingree said in a statement Monday. “No one’s right to vote has meaning if the voter cannot be reasonably assured that their vote was counted as cast. This is a problem that must be fixed.”

Academics, in the meantime, have voiced divergent viewpoints.

Some experts in computers and voting-equipment manufacturing oppose paper-trail ballots, at least in the short term, arguing that it would be expensive and that there is not enough time to get the machines in place before November’s elections.

But other computer experts have formed their own organizations — and the Verified Voting Foundation — to advocate for paper-trail ballots.

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