Holt Bill Compromise?

by on July 20, 2007 · 0 comments

I’ll wait to see the final proposal, but my initial reaction is that this is not a compromise worth having:

House Democratic officials say they are now working on compromise legislation that could allow hundreds of counties in 20 states to simply add tiny, cash-register-style printers to their touch-screen machines for the 2008 and 2010 elections, while waiting for manufacturers to develop better technology by 2012.

House officials said the compromise would ensure that all voting machines nationwide would have some kind of paper trail in 2008 through which voters could verify that their ballots were properly recorded and that could be used in recounts. Under the plan, New York, which has delayed replacing its old lever machines, would be the only state that would have to change its entire voting system by November 2008.

Adding cheap, easily-jammed printers to voting machines and then making fragile cash-register-style rolls of paper the official voting record is a just a horrible idea. Printers will jam. Those giant paper rolls will be a pain to deal with. Frustrated poll workers will have no choice but to continue the election on machines with broken printers. With a significant number of votes either never printed or stored on damaged paper tape rolls, it will be impossible to conduct a meaningful recount. Which, if the election is close, will mean endless litigation as the courts try to reconcile a legal mandate that the paper record be the official record with the bare fact that many of the votes were never recorded on paper. And then, of course, the failure of those crappy printers will be used as an argument against paper trails altogether.

Also, if the paper tapes aren’t expected to be a permanent solution, how much sense to does it make to force states to purchase them for one election? They might be cheap, but they’re not free. And it’ll be a non-trivial amount of work to install them and train poll workers to use them properly.

My sense is that states can still have a high-quality paper-based voting systems in place by 2008. If nothing else, Congress can allow states that really can’t meet the deadline to petition for a federal waiver. But if it’s really true that we can’t get high-quality, paper-based systems in place by November 2008, I would much rather have Congress leave the rules for 2008 unchanged and put good rules in place for the 2010 election than force states to install some kind of horrible frankenstein voting system for one or two elections.

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