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National Issues

Senate Rules and Administration Committee Approves Nominees to Federal Election Commission PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Election Commission (FEC)
By Senate Rules and Administration Committee   
May 22, 2008
Committee Urges Full Senate to Swiftly Confirm Nominees

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, chaired by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), today approved the nomination of three new members to the Federal Election Commission.

"This vote means the FEC is one step closer to restoring a working quorum. This vote comes not a moment too soon. It is unconscionable that in the middle of a presidential election year, with campaign committees spending millions of dollars, that we don't have our federal election watchdog in place," Senator Feinstein said. "Clearly, we need a fully functioning Commission to ensure the integrity of our system of raising and spending campaign funds. I'm hopeful the full Senate will confirm these nominees, along with a fourth nominee whose nomination is still before the full Senate. I believe it would be a terrible mistake to delay the process further."
Testimony of Jonah H Goldman Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Legislation
By Jonah H Goldman, Director, National Campaign for Fair Elections, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights   
May 20, 2008
The following testimony was presented to the US Senate Judiciary Committee on at a hearing on May 20, 2008.

This year, the Lawyers’ Committee will recruit, train and deploy over 10,000 legal volunteers to develop a nationwide comprehensive, year round program to work on all facets necessary to ensure the right to vote. We will support over 150 coalition partners, establish a productive dialogue with election officials, conduct strategic legal voter protection field programs and answer the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline. This hotline is the nation’s largest voter services hotline which, since its inception, has answered nearly 300,000 calls from voters across the country, including over 6,000 in this year’s primaries.

Mr. Chairman, the Congress has both a Constitutional and moral duty to protect the rights of all eligible Americans to cast a meaningful ballot. My fellow panelists, with whom I am proud to share this honor with, have laid out the historical and constitutional imperative to fiercely protect the right to vote. The 1st, 14th and 15th amendments give Congress the power to protect this fundamental right. Through the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, and the Help America Vote Act Congress has shown, with varying levels of success, a commitment to protect this right. In addition to the constitutional responsibility, there is another critical reason why this hearing – and hopefully subsequent remedial action – is so important. This country is the light of liberty and democracy. Our noble experiment in providing each citizen a voice in the destiny of her country – constantly evolving and made better through expanding the voices of those able to participate – is now the template for freedom around the world. The hope of our democratic institutions inspires nations to entrust power to the citizenry.

Of course, with this role comes great responsibility. We have a moral obligation to America’s voters to provide the most responsive infrastructure available. We have a duty to make our elections equally open to all eligible citizens, conduct them fairly, and transparent so all Americans have confidence in the process. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.
Dutch Government Bans Electronic Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Andreas Udo de Haes, IDG News Service   
May 19, 2008
The government of the Netherlands has banned electronic voting machines from future elections because of a risk of eavesdropping. The nation will return to paper voting.

"Research indicates that a secure voting machine that is immune to the risks of eavesdropping can't be guaranteed. Developing new equipment furthermore requires a large investment, both financially and in terms of organization. The administration judges that this offers insufficient added value over voting by paper and pencil," the Ministry of Internal Affairs said Friday evening.

In its decision, the government also banned so-called voting printers. Because they leave a paper trail, the printers had been suggested as a potential alternative to traditional voting computers that store the vote counts in their memory.

A group of experts headed by Bart Jacobs, a professor at Radboud University in Nijmegen, dismissed the printer option. The group concluded that "even with regular testing of each printer, it can't be guaranteed that all devices stay within the required emission limits" that safeguard against eavesdropping.

Read the Entire Article at
Hans von Spakovsky Withraws from FEC Nomination PDF  | Print |  Email
Federal Election Commission (FEC)
By Warren Stewart, Verified Voting Foundation   
May 16, 2008
Likely Confirmation of Caroline Hunter Wil Create Opening at Election Assistance Commission

Bowing to opposition from Senate Democrats and citing the strain on his family caused by the protracted controversy over his nomination, Hans von Spakovsky has withdrawn his name for consideration for a seat on the Federal Election Commission. Von Spakovsky has been a lightning rod for criticism since his recess appointment to the FEC in December, 2006, primarily for his actions while in the Department of Justice.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) issued a statement calling Mr. Von Spakovsky’s withdrawal “a victory for our electoral process” and suggesting that the process of confirming a slate of nominees for the FEC would proceed quickly. The commission has lacked the quorum necessary for official action since the confirmation stalled over Mr. Spakovsky’s nomination last Fall.

A confirmation hearing was already scheduled by the Senate Rules and Admistrtion Committee for May 21 to consider a list of nominees that did not include Mr. Spakovsky and it is widely assumed that the process will move quickly with a full Senate vote perhaps even before Memorial Day. A  spokesman for Senate Rules Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told Bloomberg News "Mr. von Spakovsky's decision to withdraw will certainly help expedite approval of the other commissioners". 

Significantly the new slate of nominees includes Caroline Hunter, who joined the Election Assistance Commission last year and currently serves as vice chair. If she is confirmed as expected, it will leave an opening at the EAC heading into the November elections.

Download the resignation letter.

SCOTUS: Crawford — More Rhetorical Bark Than Legal Bite? PDF  | Print |  Email
Voting Rights
By Justin Levitt, Brennan Center for Justice   
May 12, 2008
This oped was posted at the Brennan Center Blog and is reposted here with permission.

On April 28, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the Crawford cases, rejecting a challenge to Indiana's law requiring voters at the polls to provide certain types of government-issued photo identification. I had predicted that the opinion would likely have impact far beyond Indiana, refining the standard for justifying a burden on voters, and potentially changing the ground rules for 2008 and beyond. But by and large, it looks like I was wrong: though the rhetoric around the case grows ever louder, in terms of the legal holding, this was far more a whimper than a bang. 

The decision was split, 3-3-2-1. Justices Stevens and Kennedy, and Chief Justice Roberts, issued the "lead" plurality opinion, rejecting the challenge to the law as overbroad in light of the limited evidence in the record on the extent of the law's burdens. 

Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito would have gone much further, granting blanket approval to any election law without intentional discrimination or severe widespread impact. The latter, they hinted, would require a showing of serious problems for the average elector. Absent that, states could presumably feel free to forbid rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges

Justices Souter and Ginsburg dissented, finding that the state had not adequately justified the burdens of the law, even on the case's limited record. Justice Breyer also dissented, writing separately to emphasize that Indiana offered no defense of its law—the most restrictive in the country—to justify restrictions above and beyond those in place in other states.
EAC Selects D.C. Elections Director for Chief Operating Officer Post PDF  | Print |  Email
Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
By EAC Media Release   
May 09, 2008
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) today announced that Alice P. Miller will join the EAC as its chief operating officer, effective June 2, 2008. Ms. Miller currently is in charge of elections in the District of Columbia, where she serves its 340,000 active voters and manages a $5.2 million budget.

"We are very pleased to have someone with Alice's unique experience, both as a manager and an election official," said EAC Chair Rosemary Rodriguez. "The EAC has a lot of work ahead, and I am confident that she will help us make sure election officials have the tools they need to conduct accessible, accurate and secure elections."

Ms. Miller will oversee the day-to-day operations at the EAC in six program areas: Voting Systems Testing and Certification, HAVA Funding, Election Administration Improvement Programs, Research, Administration and Human Resources. Her leadership role will also figure centrally as the agency focuses on developing and integrating policies and procedures aimed at improving efficiency and transparency.

Ms. Miller is the executive director of the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics. During her 12 years in this role, she has been responsible for overseeing and managing all aspects of elections, from voter registration to ballot access for candidates and measures. She also has directed the management of voter rolls and supervised the recruitment, training and deployment of 2,500 poll workers.

In addition to her duties as chief elections official for the District of Columbia, Ms. Miller also served in 2003 as president of the National Association of State Election Directors. She holds a juris doctor degree from Northeastern University School of Law and a bachelor of arts from Boston College.
VA Retreats on Voter Registration Efforts for Wounded Veterans PDF  | Print |  Email
Voting Rights
By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet   
May 08, 2008
This article was posted at AlterNet and is reposted here with permission of the author.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has retreated on a recently announced policy to allow voter registration drives at its facilities where veterans' groups and others would assist wounded former soldiers to participate in the 2008 presidential election.

"It is VHA (Veterans Health Administration) policy to assist patients who seek to exercise their right to register and vote; however, due to Hatch Act (Title 5 United States Code (U.S.C.) 7321-7326) requirements and to avoid disruptions to facility operations, voter registration drives are not permitted," the new policy directive by Michael J. Kussman, Under Secretary for Health said.

The Hatch Act restricts political activities by federal employees.

The VA directive rolls back a new policy announced in late April where the agency agreed, after mounting public and political pressure, to assist wounded veterans with registering to vote and voting for federal elections. While the VA still says it will help former soldiers on an as-requested basis with registration and voting, curtailing voter registration drives brought swift condemnation from Capitol Hill and advocacy groups.
An Update on the State of the EAC’s Testing and Certification Program PDF  | Print |  Email
Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
By Brian Hancock, Director, US Election Assistance Commission Testing and Certification Program   
May 08, 2008
It has been 15 months since the EAC opened the doors to its voting system testing and certification program, and although much has been accomplished in that time, we have also heard several concerns regarding our program. I wanted to take this opportunity to address some of the concerns that have been expressed to me by state and local officials in recent months and to make you aware that an annual report outlining all our activities, in detail, will be forwarded to you within the next several weeks.

Current Program Challenges

Since the initiation of our Certification Program, there has been much anticipation surrounding the EAC certifying its first system. There have been many concerns expressed as to why the EAC has not yet certified a voting system and if any systems will be certified in time for the 2008 General Election. I want to take this opportunity to address those concerns and explain why we are being deliberate in our review of applicant voting systems.

The EAC Certification Program represents the first time the Federal Government is testing and certifying voting systems. Prior to the creation of the EAC’s program, voting systems were, as many of you know, qualified by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED). NASED operated with little to no funding or staff dedicated to this effort. When the EAC’s program was established in January of 2007 the EAC made the difficult but correct decision not to “grandfather” NASED qualified systems. Instead the EAC chose to start anew and require that all systems applying for EAC testing and certification must be fully tested as a new system under our program in order to receive an EAC certification. This decision not to grandfather NASED qualified systems had the predictable effect of lengthening the initial testing and certification process. It is important to note that after a system receives an EAC certification any modifications to that system will be tested under a more streamlined process which will test the modification (delta testing) and those systems or subsystems altered or impacted by the modification (regression testing). The system will then be subjected to integration testing to ensure overall functionality. In addition, the EAC program has developed procedures to deal with De Minimus changes to a voting system and to deal with emergency Pre-Election modifications to EAC certified voting systems. These procedures are outlined in Sections 3.5 and 3.6 of the Certification Program Manual.
ACCURATE Submits Comments on the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines PDF  | Print |  Email
Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
May 05, 2008
Download ACCURATE'S Comments on the Draft VVSG

A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable and Transparent Elections (ACCURATE) submitted public comment today to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on their draft Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), urging the Commission to adopt certain key features fo the draft. The VVSG provides a national certification framework for U.S. voting systems against which 40 states require their voting systems to be certified.

ACCURATE's comments laud the new draft as a groundbreaking and badly needed overhaul of our national voting system standards while making constructive suggestions for further development.

The most significant element of the draft VVSG is the requirement for *software independence*, which would require voting systems to be designed so that undetected flaws in the voting system software cannot cause changes in the vote count. ACCURATE fully supports requiring software independence as the backbone of a robust and comprehensive next-generation voting system certification regime.

The commentary goes on to emphasize the importance of welcome features of the draft: adversarial vulnerability testing, volume testing, the new framework for usability and accessibility testing and comprehensive voting system documentation requirements. The comment closes by pointing out areas of the VVSG that will require increasedinstitutional support outside of the VVSG process, including the crucial innovation class and a closed loop for incident reporting and feedback.

ACCURATE plans to participate further as the draft VVSG is modified and extended.
Dept. of Veterans Affairs Changes Policy on Helping Wounded Soldiers Register to Vote PDF  | Print |  Email
General Topics
By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet   
May 02, 2008
This article was posted at AlterNet and is reposted here with permission of the author.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has issued new rules allowing former soldiers living at VA facilities to ask for help with registering to vote and voting -- a decision that could increase participation in the 2008 election by wounded Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans.

The new rules, to be published on government websites this week, reverses a years-long policy where the VA opposed helping patients and others living on VA campuses -- notably homeless veterans -- with voter registration and voting, saying to do so would be a partisan activity.

"It is VHA policy to assist patients who seek to exercise their right to register and vote," said the new policy, issued by the Veterans Health Administration as Directive 2008-023. "This policy establishes a uniform approach to assembling and providing information on voter registration and voting to veterans who request it."

Under the directive, VA facilities "must ensure" there is a "written, published policy on voter assistance" that allows patients to leave the facility to register and vote, subject to their physician's approval; provides help for registering and voting by absentee ballot; and informs patients that voting assistance is available. It states, "This also needs to be done when the patient is admitted to the facility."
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