Paper ballot technology drive downshifts as House nixes funding to replace e-voting machines

A widespread trend to jettison high-tech direct recording electronic (DRE) voting terminals in favor of optically-scanned paper ballots took a hit yesterday as the House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have helped states pay to replace their electronic voting machines with paper ballots.

The voting technology bill garnered a majority of votes on the House floor but not the two-thirds margin required for passage under the special, expedited procedure used in the process. That process, known as suspension o the rule, requires the supermajority margin as a condition of limiting delays due to extended debate and consideration of numerous amendments. The measure is known as the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008. The bill also would have helped states verify elections by paying to recount paper ballots.

Several states have junked the DRE systems they adopted earlier amid increasing evidence that the software used in the electronic voting systems is riddled with flaws. Detailed studies by election experts and independent software analysis scholars sponsored by state agencies in California, Ohio, Florida and Kentucky have cited the potential for DRE system failures

The House Administration Committee reported the bill, H.R. 5036, to the full House two weeks ago by a bipartisan, unanimous vote.

The bill would have authorized the federal government to reimburse states that now use DRE units or similar electronic technologies to convert to paper-based systems this year. The authorization bill also covered the cost of emergency paper ballots that would be counted as regular ballots if the voting machines fail.

The bill would authorize federal payments to the states to cover the cost of converting their voting hardware from paperless touch screen units to those that use paper ballots, such as optical scanners or computers with printers, the bill's backers said. The draft law also would have paid the cost of conducting hand-counted audits, under public observation, based on a sample of 2 percent of the precincts involved in a disputed poll.

The White House and Republican representatives opposed the bill on cost grounds. The measure's main sponsor, Rush Holt (D.-Ohio), said the bill's proponents had drafted a modest measure so as to gain the bipartisan support seen in the Administration Committee's vote

'I'd like to ask the opponents how much spending is too much to have verifiable elections in the United States,' Holt said.

Election specialists agree that counties and other voting management organizations at the state level now have already completed their plans for the November general election.


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