On May 17, US Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) re-introduced The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2011 (HR 5816), together with 98 co-sponsors. The language in the bill matches that of HR 2894, introduced by Mr. Holt in the 111th Congress in 2009 and would require voter-marked paper ballots in all federal elections. The bill would authorize funding for states to purchase voting equipment, require hand-counted audits of electronic vote tallies, and reform the process of testing voting equipment. Most of the language of HR 5816 is also included in Title VI of the omnibus election reform bill, The Voter Empowerment Act (HR 5799.) It was referred to the Subcommittee on Election of the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

As with earlier versions of Mr. Holt’s legislation, Verified Voting is proud to endorse HR 5816. Verified Voting President Pamela Smith notes “this bill provides a baseline standard for our voting systems that’s so essential the voter confidence — not just that the outcome is correct, but that it actually means something when they take the time to go and vote.”  Reflecting the added urgency of Mr. Holt’s legislation since it was first introduced, Smith adds “the funding called for in this bill to support the movement to more resilient and reliable voting systems is urgently needed in many states and counties where voting systems are aging rapidly and need to be replaced.”

In 2010, over 60 percent of the nation’s voters cast their votes on paper ballots that were read by electronic scanning devices. In the last several years, voter-marked paper ballots have become the most popular means of providing a paper record of each vote. “Paper trail” printers attached to voting machines are an alternative method of providing a paper record, but have reliability problems, such as printer jams. They are cumbersome to recount, raise privacy concerns because they store all votes on a continuous roll, and go unchecked by significant numbers of voters. Three-fourths of the states have adopted voting systems that provide some form of voter-verifiable paper record, but a significant number still use electronic voting machines that offer no voter-verifiable backup. In at least ten states in the 2012 elections, most or all of the votes will be cast on paperless electronic voting systems. These include Indiana, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, as well as Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas.

Key Provisions of  the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2011 (HR 5816):

  • Every vote cast in federal elections will be recorded on a paper ballot that a voter marks by hand or by using a ballot marking device (pages 3-4, proposed amendment to the Help America Vote Act, Section 301(a)(2)).
  • Voting systems that produce paper records (including thermal reel-to-reel systems and systems accessible to voters with disabilities that also used or produced a paper ballot) that were used in 2008 elections can be used until 2014; only systems that used no paper ballots at all must be replaced or upgraded by November 2010 (page 40, proposed Section 301(d)(2)(B)).
  • The paper ballot is the vote of record in all recounts and audits, and shall be counted by hand as a check on electronic tallies (page 4, proposed Section 301(a)(2)(A)(ii) and (iii)).
  • In jurisdictions that use already-deployed voting systems that produce paper records paper (and such systems must be replaced by 2014), all voters are entitled to vote by paper ballot for any reason, and to be notified of that right at the polling place (page 42, proposed Section 301(d)(2)(B)(iii)).
  • Routine random audits must be conducted by hand count in at least 3% of the precincts in all Federal elections, and at least 5% or 10% in very close races, but races need not be audited when the winning candidate received at least 80% of the vote (pages 48-50, proposed Section 322(a); and page 48, proposed Section 321(a)(2)(B)).
  • States can use alternative audit mechanisms if the National Institute on Standards and Technology determines the alternative mechanism offers a 95% chance of leading to a full recount if such a recount would show a different prevailing outcome (page 52, proposed Section 322(b)).
  • Wireless devices, Internet connections, uncertified software and undisclosed software are banned in voting and tabulating machines (pages 18-19, proposed Section 301(a)(8)).
  • $1 billion in funding is authorized for system replacement, and $100 million each fiscal year is authorized to fund the audits (page 32, proposed Section 257(a)(4); and p. 60, proposed Section 326(e)).
  • An arms-length relationship is established between test labs and voting machine vendors (pages 23-27, proposed Section 231(b)(3) and (4)).
  • States must document a secure chain of custody for ballots and election media, and the EAC must develop best practice guidelines for the chain of custody (page 20, proposed Section 301(a)(10)(B)(i); and page 21, proposed Section 301(a)(10)(C)).