HAVA and HR811 --

Voting Machines’ Impact on Minority Communities

Report by Teresa Hommel

Chair, Task Force on Election Integrity, Community Church of NY



The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) required all states to provide voting devices in each poll site to enable voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently, and authorized the use of federal monies for states to purchase new equipment.


HAVA money has been used to purchase two kinds of new systems:


HAVA spurred a nationwide grassroots election integrity movement to fight the use of DREs because DREs conceal vote-handling, insider tampering, outsider hacking, as well as innocent errors. DREs shut out the community and prevent citizens from participating in election procedures. No one can witness, understand, or attest to the honesty of vote-handling and vote-counting that take place inside DREs.


Problems with DREs have had a greater impact on minorities. For example, when New Mexico switched from DREs to paper ballots in 2006, minority undervote rates plummeted as much as 85%.[1]


1. Evidence now shows that DREs are capable of ethnic profiling when voters select a non-English language for the display of their ballot on the touchscreen, and DREs may lose the votes intended to be cast on such ballots.[2]


2, DREs have proven to be unmanageable for many poll workers, voters, and elections staff, which means that voters can’t vote because no one can make the DRE voting machines work.[3]


3.This is in addition to disenfranchisement caused by malfunctions, failures, and long waiting lines due to insufficient equipment. Federal standards allow DREs to have a 9.2% failure rate.[4]


4. DREs are intimidating and confusing for the elderly and non-computer-users.


5. With or without a voter-verified paper trail, DREs prevent voters from knowing whether their votes have been correctly recorded and counted. This is because the touchscreen display and the paper trail, both of which voters can verify, can be different from the invisible, unverifiable votes electronically-recorded inside the computer, which are used to determine election tallies.[5] Thus, DREs increase voter cynicism and discourage people from voting.


HR811, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, was a shock to grassroots election integrity activists, especially those of us who lobbied for previous versions of the bill. Several lists of problems and amendments have been submitted to Congress.[6]


In a widely published comment on 3/20/07, Douglas Kellner, Co-Chair, NY State Board of Elections, said


“Congress got it wrong when it passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 and there is a high probability that HR 811 in its current form could create another form of expensive mischief that could interfere with the efficient administration of elections.

 “ ….  [N]o state now has a voting system that complies with the requirements of HR 811.  As New York has revealed to the rest of the nation, no voting machine manufacturer now produces a voting system that meets all of the current standards.  The November 2008 deadline in HR 811 is completely unrealistic.  It would create even more chaos as states purchase new voting equipment that, like the voting equipment purchased after HAVA 2002, is not sufficiently tested.”[7]


Grassroots activists are asking Congressional Representatives to demand amendments to HR811, or to cancel their sponsorship and vote against it. Most critical, HR811 must ban DREs. DRE proponents argue that jurisdictions have spent too much money on DREs to give them up--but paper ballot systems cost so much less than DREs, both to acquire and to use[8], that switching now would reimburse the cost of the DREs and the new paper ballot equipment within a few years! Switching now would be timely--in 2006, New Mexico switched to paper ballot systems in two months.


Meanwhile, traditional good government organizations have not lived up to their responsibility of carefully reading and understanding the implications of various parts of HR811, and some have actually published inaccurate summaries of HR811.[9] Grassroots activists urge Congressional Representatives to look at HR811 itself to find out what it does.[10]


Paper ballot/optical scanner/accessible ballot marking device voting systems offer a more secure, voter-friendly, cost-effective alternative to DREs. Advantages: [11]


1. Paper ballots enable voters to know that their votes have been recorded as intended because paper ballots are marked directly by each voter, whether by hand or by using an accessible ballot marking device that enables voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently.


2. With paper ballots, only the counting of votes is concealed, but tallies can easily be confirmed by recounting the voter-marked paper ballots.


3. Many accessibility advocates now say that voter-marked paper ballots are superior to DREs because voter-marked paper ballots offer greater accessibility and increased security.[12]


4. Paper ballot systems are simple and understandable, and enable the community to participate fully as voters, poll workers, and election observers.


[1] New Mexico undervote rate plummets after switch from DREs to paper ballots


[2] "Wrong Time for an E-vote Glitch," August, 2004, Evidence that minority ballots are handled "differently"


New Mexico - 2 DREs accounted for 8% Hispanic and Native American undervotes


Parallel Testing Program, Palm Beach. FL. Findings: lost votes on Spanish ballots, pages 24-27. November, 2006


[3] E-Voting Failures, Nov. 2006, http://www.wheresthepaper.org/E-VotingIn2006Mid-Term.pdf

[4] Federal standards allow 9.2% failure rate, http://www.votetrustusa.org/pdfs/DRE_Reliability.pdf 

[5] 2 pictures show how paper and electronic votes differ, http://www.wheresthepaper.org/NYPBOSvsVVPAT.pdf

[6] http://www.wheresthepaper.org/ny.html#HR811

[7] Full text of Kellner’s email comment: http://www.wheresthepaper.org/CommentDouglasAKellner.htm

[8] Huge cost savings of using paper ballot systems: http://www.nyvv.org/reports/MiamiDadeDumpsDREs.pdf

As of October, 2006, approximately 56 percent of American counties used paper ballot/optical scan systems, while 36 percent used DREs.  http://www.wheresthepaper.org/EDSsurvey061002.pdf

[9] North Carolina Voter replied to one People for the America Way inaccuracy http://www.ncvoter.net/pfaw.html

[10] http://www.wheresthepaper.org/HR811markupCmt.htm

[11] See also, New York City Council Resolution 131-A for paper ballot systems, passed unanimously 3/1407, http://webdocs.nyccouncil.info/textfiles/Res%200131-2006.htm?CFID=2092716&CFTOKEN=97566381

[12] Accessibility: http://www.voteraction.org/reports/improving_access.pdf and http://www.bradblog.com/?p=4270