Just when you thought Holt�s HR 811
was a dangerous slam at free elections, here comes something even
worse. In the grand tradition of the �Clean Air Act,� �No Child Left Behind,�
and �Bringing Democracy to Iraq,� Feinstein�s �Ballot Integrity Act of 2007�
(S. 1487), is exactly the opposite of what it proclaims to be and lacks any
shred of integrity.
As Ellen Theisen,
a leading election integrity advocate charges, �The Ballot Integrity
Act of 2007,� was introduced on May 24, 2007. Some were expecting it to be a
companion to, and improvement on, Holt�s bill, H.R. 811. Far from an
improvement, S. 1487 introduces surprising -- and disturbing -- new provisions.�
Here is the rest of Theisen�s article on The Brad Blog:
This bill is shameful as well as dangerous . . . Proposing to legitimize
such a scheme in federal law is a disgrace . . . Senator Dianne Feinstein�s
1487, �The Ballot Integrity Act of 2007,� was introduced on May 24, 2007.
Some were expecting it to be a companion to, and improvement on, Holt�s bill,
H.R. 811. Far from an improvement, S. 1487 introduces surprising -- and
disturbing -- new provisions.
It includes many of the most troubling points of the Holt bill, but goes
even farther in the wrong direction away from what is needed for
Electoral Integrity in America, presenting instead a grave danger to our
The bill systematically dismantles government by the people, and it
provides a legal excuse for expanding the disenfranchisement of �distinct
communities� such as racial minorities.
(The following excerpt discusses only how S. 1487 functions like a
Voting Rights Act in reverse. I've posted a more complete analysis of the
bill at VotersUnite.org.)
Historically, racial minorities have
been prevented from voting by violence, poll taxes, highly subjective literacy
tests, police dogs, and so on. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was landmark
legislation to remove such obstacles and clear the path for all voters to have
a voice in elections.
A shameful provision in S. 1487 functions as a Voting Rights Act in reverse.
�They� (historically disenfranchised communities) would get to vote, but the
bill allows for the future massive loss of �their� voices through machine
malfunction or other means, while limiting the vote loss that would be
acceptable in jurisdictions where �they� aren�t as predominant. . . .
The bill would give the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) the
authority and discretion to review the historical disenfranchisement of
�distinct communities� (such as racial minorities) in some jurisdictions and
expand that disenfranchisement to all jurisdictions where those communities
have a �substantial presence.�
[A note about the agency to which the bill would give this historic
discretion: Reports from the Government Accountability Office reveal that the
EAC is incompetent, behind schedule by years, and derelict in their duties.
Recent news articles regarding their suppression and subsequent altering of a
voter fraud report, along with their undisclosed disapproval of CIBER voting
system test labs, has shown that the EAC is partisan and secretive. The process
by which the 2005 federal voting systems standards were developed show that the
agency is unduly influenced by the interests of voting system manufacturers.]
A Brief Background on Undervoting. To understand how
the bill provides a legal excuse for expanding the disenfranchisement of racial
minorities and other �distinct communities,� some background information is
necessary. An �undervote� for a particular contest occurs when a vote for that
contest is not counted on a ballot. In a secret ballot system, such as we have
in the U.S., it is impossible for anyone other than the voter to know whether
an undervote is the voter�s choice or caused by a mis-tabulation of some kind.
Election administrators and others who study election returns agree that many
voters intentionally undervote in down-ticket contests, such as �Judge� or
�Proposition 2.� However, these experts also agree that the percentage of
intentional undervotes in federal contests is very low, so researchers
routinely study Presidential undervote rates to compare the accuracy of the
tabulation process in various jurisdictions.
A Presidential undervote rate of 0.5% (1 undervote out of every 200 ballots) is
generally thought to indicate that virtually all votes were tabulated. A rate
of 2% (1 out of 50) or more is generally thought to suggest a possible
breakdown in the tabulation process, such as an equipment malfunction or even
Results have surfaced in many minority precincts around the country where, for
example, 8% of the ballots fail to record a vote for President, compared to 2%
of ballots in majority white precincts. Attempts have been made to attribute
this discrepancy to �indecision� or �lack of interest� of the minority voters,
despite those voters� claims to the contrary. Research
confirms the voter�s claims [PDF], pointing instead to possibly flawed
machines or outright election fraud.
What S. 1487 Would Do. The bill would give the EAC sole authority
to establish a national maximum undervote percentage, called a �benchmark.� The
purpose of undervote studies has always been to detect the loss of valid votes
and attempt to identify and eliminate the causes. Such a benchmark could be
valuable as a red flag to States to investigate potential tabulation problems
in areas that exceeded the benchmark.
under S. 1487, the benchmark would not be used to spur investigation into
potential tabulation problems. Instead, the bill would require the impossible.
The benchmark would establish an undervote rate �that States may not exceed.�
How does Congress expect States to control the undervote rate?
This and other questions the mandate raises suggest potential confusion and
even danger as the details of enforcement would be worked out in the courts.
What is the consequence if a State exceeded the benchmark? Would a State be
required to adjust the vote count (after the canvass) to meet the benchmark?
Would the election be void, would the State have to hold a new election, or
would the State be penalized in some other way? The bill answers none of these
But this bill is shameful as well as
dangerous. The bill states: �Congress finds that there are certain distinct
communities in certain geographic areas that have historically high rates of
intentional undervoting in elections for Federal office, relative to the rest
of the Nation.�
This �finding� is a deceit. Remember, there is no way to determine the rate of intentional
undervoting in a secret ballot system.
But the bill goes on to declare that the EAC may determine which �distinct
communities� have a historically high intentional undervote rate and may
either set a different benchmark for �local jurisdictions in which that
distinct community has a substantial presence� or exempt those jurisdictions
from compliance with the national benchmark. So, the exemption wouldn�t just
apply to the jurisdictions that had the high undervote rate; it could apply to
all jurisdictions across the country that have a �substantial presence� of that
So, for example, the EAC might use the 2002
election fiasco in Florida�s Miami-Dade County to conclude that African
American communities intentionally undervote at rates as high as 28% in federal
contests. Then they could declare that all precincts across the country with a
�substantial presence� of African Americans will be allowed a higher
Presidential undervote rate than other precincts.
Or, the EAC could use the scandalous
2004 election in New Mexico [PDF] to conclude that precincts with
predominantly Native American voters have three to four times as many lost
votes for President as the national average. Then they could provide legal
cover for the expanded disenfranchisement of Native American voters at that
same rate, in whatever jurisdictions across the country have a �substantial
presence� of Native Americans.
After the Civil War, one of the provisions aimed at excluding African Americans
from voting allowed a person to vote only if his grandfather had the right to
vote. S. 1487 follows that tradition by �grandfathering in� disenfranchisement
in a new way.
Proposing to legitimize such a scheme in federal law is a disgrace.
Potential Consequences for Other �Distinct Communities.� Definitions are
missing for two important terms in this provision -- �distinct communities� and
�substantial presence.� Instead, their interpretations are left to the
discretion of the EAC, giving that agency the authority to �find� high
intentional undervoting patterns nearly anywhere and extend that level of
disenfranchisement to nearly anywhere.
Let's see how the recent Sarasota example could play out if this legislation
In 2006, over 18,000 Sarasota County, Florida ballots showed undervotes in the
13th Congressional district contest --- a 13% undervote rate. Neighboring
counties voting for the same contest had undervote rates ranging from 2% to 5%.
If the EAC looked at the demographics of Sarasota County, they'd find a
"substantial presence" of elderly. The 65-and-over population of
Sarasota County is 31.5%, which is the sixth highest among counties across the
U.S. Would the EAC then conclude that a high undervote rate is acceptable in
any U.S. county with 30% or more elderly voters? Or, since Florida has the
highest 65+ population of any state in the country (17.6%), would the EAC
declare that high undervotes across the entire state of Florida are
A Remarkable Perversion of Undervote Studies. The purpose of undervote
rate studies is to detect the loss of valid votes and attempt to identify and
eliminate the causes. However, in a remarkable perversion of that purpose, this
bill grants the EAC authority to use such studies to expand the
disenfranchisement of historically disenfranchised communities in some
jurisdictions to other jurisdictions in which �they� are predominant.
Furthermore, this provision would deter investigation into the causes of high
undervote rates where they are most needed. Instead, without evidence, it
falsely asserts that the causes are already known, that this bill supplies
sufficient remedies, and that the issue of undervoting needs no more
investigation. High undervote rates reported in future elections could be used
as justification for adjusting the benchmark for those and other jurisdictions
-- expanding the disenfranchisement even more.
Disgraceful as this provision for targeting �distinct
communities� is, it is only the SECOND most dangerous aspect of S. 1487. Read
my complete analysis here: http://www.votersunite.org/info/s1487Report.asp
. . . and read the bill
# # # # # #
And, if you need a
Feinstein character recommendation
Read all about the multi-millionaire California
senator resigning from the Military Appropriations subcommittee. Feinstein
�was chairperson and ranking member of MILCON for six years, during which time
she had a conflict of interest due to her husband Richard C. Blum�s ownership
of two major defense contractors, who were �awarded� billions of dollars for
military construction projects approved by Feinstein. . . .� Click onto the
link above for MetroActive�s expose
on what Diane Feinstein is all about.
The bottom line
Either through the Holt, or worse, the Feinstein Bill, our voting rights
are on the brink of extinction like the American Bald Eagle once was. It
experienced a comeback only because concerned people came forth to help in its
survival. Now, everyone who votes needs to read and know about what our
�sleepy-headed� Congress is about to sign off on, offered up by two of its
leading predators of freedom and democracy, corporate lackeys if not fascists
in every sense of the words.
After you read this piece, call your representatives and save our voting
system from extinction. Don�t think it can�t happen here. It can and will if
either of these bills are allowed to go forward. Act now, as they say in the ad
game, this offer cannot be repeated. Once one of these bills is signed, it will
be law. And you won�t like it.
Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.