September 19, 2007 By Alysoun McLaughlin
Reprinted with permission from County News, a publication of the National Association of Counties. (c) 2007, National Association of Counties, Washington, D.C.
Earlier this year, congressional leaders swept aside warnings from county officials and fast-tracked legislation to rewrite the Help America Vote Act.
After an unprecedented lobbying effort by county election officials, however, those concerns are back in the spotlight. And the sponsor of the legislation -- Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) -- was quoted in a Capitol Hill publication this week as saying, "[t]here are 435 members who say 'What does this mean for my three counties?'"
H.R. 811, the so-called "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act," would make sweeping amendments to the Help America Vote Act. Jurisdictions in 12 states: Arkansas, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia -- and statewide in five states: Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland and South Carolina -- would need to eliminate all use of electronic voting equipment that does not print out a paper record of every vote before the presidential election in 2008.
They would have to replace their voting equipment again -- along with the rest of the country -- when new requirements take effect in 2012 that allow motor-impaired voters to visually inspect and cast their votes without physically handling the paper ballot. There is no voting equipment on the market that meets these requirements, and the Election Technology Council has indicated that it would be difficult for vendors to meet this deadline.
In addition, H.R. 811 micromanages election procedures including requiring parallel use of both electronic and paper ballots -- including at early voting locations -- and imposes costly new processes for hand-counting paper ballots. Its requirements would be enforced by a private right of action in federal court, although how they would be applied in a real-world election environment is sometimes unclear, raising the specter of a tide of lawsuits against county election officials and poll workers in federal court.
Despite chatter in the blogosphere that county officials want no changes to the nation's voting system, NACo has testified that county officials would indeed support federal legislation to ensure the accuracy and integrity of voting equipment and procedures, and the transparency of audits and recounts, as long as that legislation sets realistic standards and allows sufficient time, flexibility and funding for implementation. Unfortunately, as NACo Executive Director Larry Naake pointed out in a letter to Rep. Holt on Sept. 5, "H.R. 811 continues to fail in each respect.
"The bill remains overly prescriptive and would eliminate existing, successful practices that meet the objectives of the legislation and have been demonstrated in a real-world environment in favor of a theoretical, untested, one-size-fits-all model."
Reps. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) and Tom Petri (R-Wis.) are rallying members of Congress around an amendment to bar the bill's requirements from taking effect until Congress pays the full tab and certifies that new voting equipment will meet the requirements of the bill. They presented House leaders with a letter on Sept. 4 signed by 21 members of Congress -- most of whom are members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and cosponsors of H.R. 811 -- citing "deep concerns" about the cost and feasibility of H.R. 811 in its current form and seeking the opportunity to offer amendments to address its "unfunded mandates and unreasonable deadlines."
Meanwhile, other members of Congress are introducing their own amendments. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the powerful House Rules Committee that must sign off on H.R. 811 before it reaches the House floor, persuaded House leadership to allow New York to keep its lever machines, which were rendered obsolete by the Help America Vote Act, until 2010. Rep. Mac