House GOP Leaders and White House Deliver Blow to Verifiable Election

After a year of consideration, the House today unexpectedly failed to pass in a streamlined process a bill that would have authorized funding for states to replace paperless electronic voting machines in time for the presidential election in November.

“Our voting systems are in shambles, and seven months before we choose our next president, the White House and House Republican leaders today delivered a blow to secure elections and the ability to conduct meaningful recounts,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “The United States is spending billions of dollars to build democracy overseas, yet our own Congress turned its back on the workings of our own democracy.”

At stake is Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008. The bill had been placed on the House “suspension” calendar, meaning it needed two-thirds support to pass. Democrats and Republicans last week had reached agreement and passage was expected today.

Then the White House at the eleventh hour issued a statement urging the House to vote against the bill. And, in an unexpected move, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the minority whip, also came out against the bill.

Several provisions in the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008 would provide critical stop gap measures to insure that states have the resources they need to protect voters from the problems these machines present.

The legislation would allow states with paperless voting systems to replace those systems with optical scan systems or to retrofit these systems with printers. This provision would allow states that want to change to systems that produce paper records or paper ballots to receive federal funding for it. If voting systems produce a paper record verified by the voter then at the very least there is an opportunity for a recount if the results are questioned.

The legislation would also allow states to receive funding if they wanted to conduct post election audits. This is a critical element of this legislation. All voting systems fail – even paper based systems. However, if the voting system is audited by a comparison of a sample of paper ballots – verified by the voter – and the electronic tally produced by the voting system, election officials can be alerted to miscounts and take remedial action to attain correct vote count.

The legislation would also allow states to be reimbursed for costs associated with the provision of emergency paper ballots. If a voting jurisdiction only has electronic systems, and those systems break down or fail to start, voters must have a way of casting a ballot. This provision would give states the resources they need to ensure that voters can still cast ballots even if electronic voting systems fail.