"Suppose an article had been introduced into the Constitution, empowering the United States to regulate the elections for the particular States, would any man have hesitated to condemn it, both as an unwarrantable transposition of power, and as a premeditated engine for the destruction of the State governments?"
--- Hamilton, Alexander, Federalist No. 59, 1788
July 31, 2007
The New York Times
Before the House of Representatives takes its August recess, it owes it to the voters to pass a bill that would finally fix the problems with electronic voting. And there is a good bill ready, sponsored by Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, that would go a long way toward making elections more secure.
Electronic voting machines in their current form simply cannot be trusted. Just last week, a team of computer scientists from California released a study of three different voting systems that once again showed how easy it is to hack into electronic systems and alter the count.
The most important protection against electronic voting fraud is the voter-verified paper trail, a paper record that the voter can check to make sure that it properly reflects his or her choices. There should then be mandatory audits of a significant number of these paper records to ensure that the results tallied on the voting machines match the votes recorded on paper.
Mr. Holt's bill would require that every voting machine produce a paper record of every vote cast in a federal election, and it would mandate random audits. It would also prohibit the use of wireless and Internet technology, which are especially vulnerable to hackers.
Election reform is always a contentious issue, and there were differences of opinion, notably about the deadlines for carrying out some of the bill's reforms. But last week, the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, helped work out a good compromise that would require localities to put paper trails in place by the 2008 election and make additional improvements to their machines by 2012.
We know there are a lot of bills competing for the short window of time before the recess. But with the 2008 presidential election just 15 months away, the Holt bill is particularly urgent. Even if the House passed the bill, the Senate would also need to act, funds would have to be distributed and state and local election officials would need adequate time to make significant improvements in voting machines before Election Day.
When Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer took over the House leadership in January, there was a great deal of enthusiasm for fixing the problems with electronic voting. That was partly because last November's elections produced a shocking result: in one Florida Congressional district the wrong candidate may have been declared the winner because of a malfunction in the voting machines. It is now nearly August, and no progress has been made.
Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer can show their commitment to reliable elections by scheduling a vote this week on the Holt bill.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company