HR811 -- Eleven Problems and Solutions

By Teresa Hommel

Chairwoman, Task Force on Election Integrity, Community Church of New York

April 20, 2007


1. Problem--HR 811 allows the continued use of electronic voting machines (called Direct Recording Electronic voting machines or “DREs”). DREs have a history of failure. They are vulnerable to undetectable tampering, especially by insiders. No Board of Elections wants to be bothered with proper security procedures and precautions, nor with the 100% audits that professional Information Technology departments use to monitor the use of their computers and ensure accuracy. DREs have a disproportionate effect on of disenfranchising the poor (due to the digital divide), and enable ethnic profiling of voters who use the non-English language interface. DREs are not as accessible to voters with disabilities as paper ballot-optical scan systems that make use of accessible ballot-marking devices.


Solution--HR 811 must ban DREs, and require the use of paper ballots, defined as a ballot marked by the voter's hand or by a non-tabulating ballot-marking device.


2. Problem--HR 811 defines the term "paper ballot" to include DRE printouts which are usually called the "voter-verified paper audit trail" or "VVPAT." This is HR811’s response to growing national demand for real, first-hand voter-marked paper ballots. It is dangerous legally because it establishes in federal law that votes on “ballots” need not be counted to determine election tallies—because the VVPAT is only to be used in audits and recounts.


Solution--HR 811 must define paper ballots as a ballot marked by the voter's hand or by a non-tabulating ballot-marking device. HR811 must define a voter-verified paper audit trail as a DRE-produced printout that lists the voter’s choices for the purpose of voter-verification prior to the voter casting their electronic ballot on the DRE.


3. Problem--HR 811 contains a loophole that allows states to bypass meaningful audits including hand-counts. Section 327 provides an exemption from HR 811's audit requirements for elections in which a recount is triggered by State law due to a narrow margin. Thus, if a state requires only a machine recount, the election would be exempted from all hand counting of that narrow race. All computerized counting methods including optical scanners are vulnerable to error. For this reason, statistically significant audits, conducted by hand counting the votes on paper ballots or the voter-verified paper audit trail, are essential for all elections counted by software.


Solution--HR 811 must require all recounts to be conducted by hand-counting the paper ballots or the voter-verified paper audit trail. This should include recounts mandated by State laws for races with narrow margins.


4. HR811 mandates audits and recounts, but does not define what an audit or recount is. We have already seen what happens when such terms are undefined --HAVA requires voting systems to have a “manual audit capacity” but did not define that term, with the result that paperless DREs have been said to comply with the HAVA requirement because the tally report can be reprinted.


Solution—Fully and clearly define the terms “audit” and “recount.”


5. Problem—HR 811 does not give citizens standing to sue for enforcement and compliance with HAVA or HR811 requirements.  The HAVA requirement for a “manual audit capacity” has been ignored, but citizens have been powerless to take meaningful legal action.


Solution—HR 811 should provide citizens with standing to sue for enforcement and compliance of HAVA and HR811 requirements.


6. Problem--HR 811 mandates use of computerized means for accessibility and verifiability for voters with disabilities.


Solution--HR 811 must allow accessibility and verifiability by voters with disabilities to be accomplished through low-tech innovations such as the Vote-PAD.


7. Problem--HR 811 allows the central Election Management System ("EMS") of a computerized voting system to be connected to the Internet, yet this component is most vulnerable to easily-concealed tampering.


Solution--HR 811 must ban all Internet connections for all components of voting systems. HR 811 must also ban Internet transmission of voted overseas ballots.


8. Problem--HR 811 permanently extends authorization of the EAC, a body that has failed every part of its mission statement from its inception, and most recently had to be threatened with legal action by the NYS BOE before the EAC revealed why Ciber, NY's laboratory for certifying new voting systems, was no longer itself federally approved.

Solution--HR 811 must extend authorization of the EAC through 2008 only, with provisions that enable and encourage the proactive oversight of the EAC by Congress and the public.


9. Problem--HR 811's mandated "audit boards" may cause conflicts with existing independent election oversight bodies in some states.


Solution--HR 811 must require selection of audit boards to be done by "the state election oversight body independent of election administration, or where none exists, the chief auditor."


10. Problem--HR 811 does not require prompt and timely audits of precinct ballots.


Solution--HR 811 must mandate how soon after an election a state must begin its audits of precinct ballots, as HR 811 does for absentee and provisional ballots.


11. Problem—HR 811 would allow military overseas voters to vote over the Internet, which is insecure, and gives the EAC authority to establish the protocol.


Solution—HR 811 should ban internet voting, so that nobody votes over the Internet, least of all our soldiers whose lives are on the line in the name of democracy.



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