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Congressman to press on with paper-ballot emergency voting bill

Bill goes down in House after White House intervenes

By Todd R. Weiss
April 18, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A bill that would have helped states pay to switch to paper-election balloting systems and for random audits after elections died out of a House committee this week, but its prime sponsor said he is not giving up the fight.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said the bill he sponsored, House Bill 5036, the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act, would help make the nation's elections more accurate and secure by helping states move to paper ballots over touch-screen electronic machines.

"I'm still hopeful that it's possible to get some of this done before this year's November elections," Holt said. "Anything we can do to reduce the unresolved questions and disputes this November we should do," he said, referring to past problems in U.S. elections, including the troubled 2000 presidential election.

"Can we still do things before November? Yes, but time is running out," he said.

Under the bill, states and municipalities would have the option of getting federal money to move to paper-balloting systems instead of touch-screen, or direct recording electronic machines.

Electronic voting critics argue that touch-screen voting machines that don't use a paper ballot can't be later checked to be sure that a voter's intent was followed because it offers no way to recount the votes one by one.

E-voting supporters maintain that the machines themselves are accurate, but that problems may arise because of inadequate training for election workers and mistakes by voters.

Several states and counties have moved on their own from touch-screen machines to optically scanned paper ballots that can be recounted if needed.

"This bill this week, it was all optional," Holt said. "All it was, was reimbursing districts for doing the right thing. ... And by doing the right thing, I mean offering paper-based voting and more, requiring audits."

Two weeks ago, the bill came out of the House Administration Committee, where it was unanimously approved by Democratic and Republican members after several Republican amendments were added, and was sent on to the full House for consideration, Holt said.

On Tuesday, the bill, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, went down to defeat in the House 239-178, with 223 Democrats in favor and 176 Republican opposed, after the White House sent out a statement opposing the measure. The statement said the administration "strongly opposes" the bill because it would "create a new program that is largely redundant with existing law, and therefore unnecessary, to reimburse States for the costs of making last-minute changes to their voting systems by Election Day 2008."

Holt said some Republicans on the committee must have had a "change of heart." At least one told him it was about how much the bill could cost to implement, but Holt said the committee members were all well aware of those costs when they voted to approve it the first time.

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