Voting safeguards measure fails in House
TRENTON, N.J. - Legislation sponsored by a New Jersey congressman that would have reimbursed states wanting to adopt voting safeguards before the November presidential election failed to win approval Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill, dubbed the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008, fell short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, even after clearing a House committee unanimously. The vote was 239-178 in favor, with all but two Democrats supporting it and all but 16 Republicans opposed.
The two Democrats who voted nay on H R 5036 were Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Nick Rahall. The 16 Republicans who voted in favor of the bill were Reps. Vern Buchanan, Steve Chabot, Tom Cole, Tom Davis, Charlie Dent, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, Jim Gerlach, Dean Heller, Tim Murphy, Marilyn Musgrave, Jon Porter, Jim Ramstad, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chris Shays, and Chris Smith.
The bill would have allowed states and jurisdictions to be reimbursed by the federal government for converting to a paper ballot system, offering emergency paper ballots or conducting audits by hand counts.
The measure was designed to ensure that every vote is properly counted. Voters in all or parts of 20 states including New Jersey now cast ballots electronically without backup paper verification, according to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.
The bill would have provided reimbursements for states to provide voter-verified, audited balloting for the general election, but it would not have mandated standards for the states.
Republicans opposed the bill because of the cost.
The White House on Tuesday noted that a 2002 election reform act had authorized $3 billion to help states upgrade their voting systems, and that about one-third of that money was still available.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the legislation at $685 million, but supporters said that applied only to a worst-case scenario where many states opted to change their systems.
Holt said he was disappointed and somewhat surprised at the result.
"This increases the likelihood around the country that there will be unaudited elections and lingering questions in many jurisdictions about the validity of the vote, and no way to answer the questions," Holt said. "There is no reason this shouldn't have passed."
Elections officials in many states are grappling with their voting systems. Concerns have been raised over the security and reliability of electronic voting machines, and voting rights advocates in New Jersey and elsewhere have pushed for a return to paper balloting.
Some states have scrapped electronic voting machines. Among them are Florida and New Mexico, which switched to paper ballots that are counted by optical scanners.
Holt's bill would have reimbursed states for making a similar switch by November.
New Jersey recently acknowledged it would not meet a June deadline for retrofitting 10,000 touch-screen voting machines with paper printers. That means millions of New Jerseyans will cast ballots in November without paper receipts.
Six counties reported problems with electronic voting machines after the presidential primary in February. The number of votes tallied in dozens of machines did not match the number counted by the machine's internal control.
The manufacturer, Sequoia Voting Systems, has resisted efforts by voting rights advocates to have the machines tested independently.