Congress won’t be back in town for a few weeks, but I’m excited about some of the legislation that awaits their return. One of the least covered but most crucial bills would help restore popular faith in the fundamental building block of our democracy – elections.
If Congress doesn’t act, around 41 million Americans in 13 states and DC will cast their votes for president and Congress next year on paperless voting machines. These machines don’t generate a paper record that voters can use to verify their votes and that election administrators can use in the event of a recount. The last two presidential elections have been famously plagued with voting irregularities, and last year paperless voting machines ate 18,000 votes in Sarasota County. Incidentally, the declared margin of victory for the congressman who now represents the county was 369 votes.
Fortunately, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) have crafted a good election reform bill – the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007 – that would address voting machine problems head-on. The legislation would, among other things, do the following:
• require a paper record for every vote cast in federal elections next year and beyond
• mandate random audits of voting machines
• require that the paper records, not the voting machines, be used in the event of a recount
• require that emergency paper ballots be provided should voting machines fail
A bipartisan effort in Florida, led by Republican governor Charlie Crist, has already accomplished many of these sorely needed reforms in that state. Florida is the obvious place to start, but we need to get these reforms in place nationally right now so we can avoid further voting irregularities. The Hoyer-Holt bill is our best, and only, shot at changing the unacceptable status quo in time for the 2008 election.