Guest post: Ana Hernandez

Renewal of the Voting Rights Act

In 1975, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was extended to Texas for repeated violations of the Act with regards to the rights of Mexican-American voters. Texas is required to provide election observers in 18 counties, and bilingual assistance in Harris County. Very seldom are such observers present, nor is bilingual assistance always available. Since the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized in 1982, Mississippi is the only state that has received more reports of violations than Texas (120 to 107, respectively). The Census Bureau reported that in 2002 there were over 800,000 limited English proficient Spanish speaking voters in Texas, and that in Harris County alone there were over 17,000 limited English proficient Vietnamese speaking citizens of voting age. The Department of Justice recently confirmed that there is widespread noncompliance in Harris County with regulations regarding the availability of voter registration forms, official ballots, provisional ballots and written voting instructions in Spanish and Vietnamese. In 2003, the Harris County Clerk failed to ensure that the eSlate ballots were available in Vietnamese, and only at a few polling places were Vietnamese translations of sample ballots available. Since 2003, voter turnout among Vietnamese-Americans has doubled, no doubt playing a role in the election of my colleague, Hubert Vo, in 2004. Were all election laws properly monitored and enforced, just think how many more Latinos and Asian-Americans would vote, and how many more candidates that they chose would be given an opportunity to represent them in our courts, city councils, school boards, at the Legislature, and in Washington, D.C.

The VRA has served to demonstrate the idiosyncrasies of Texas law. Surprising to some, Texas is either the only state or one of a handful of states in the nation to have unreasonable restrictions on voters. These laws include prohibitions on same day registration, onerous identification requirements for voters who misplace their registration cards, allowing biased selection of early voting locations, allowing the moving of polling places without notice, and permitting the unavailability of ballots and election materials in other languages. A review of the effect of these laws in Texas, most particularly Harris County, would make one think we lived in the Deep South in Jim Crow days.

Now that the Voting Rights Act has been extended to 2032, let’s get to work passing laws during the upcoming Legislative Session in January to make Texas polls more accessible to all voters.

Ana Hernandez
State Representative
House District 143

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts
This entry was posted in National news. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Guest post: Ana Hernandez

  1. Support Science to Reverse Global Warming, if still possible says:

    January is too late. We need solutions for November’s election.

    Also, the law suit in Texas to follow the state’s Constitution to return paper ballots to elections will work only if we HAND COUNT the paper ballots. Using republican scanning machines just hides the evidence of paper ballots for as long as possible, such as the case with Gore and Kerry, making Republicans very happy.

    It would make many people happy to Hand Count John Kerry’s paper ballots which he secured for the upcoming August 22, 2006 Ohio trial brought by the Libertarian and Green party for election fraud.



    Bev Harris of BBV

    Telling stories about problems you saw is no longer good enough. It doesn’t produce much change. Real election reform requires real citizen oversight, and oversight means taking easy steps so you can capture real evidence if an election problem occurs.

    Real evidence = audio or video recording, public records, photos


    – Voter disenfranchisement (obstruction of voting)
    – Voting machine problems (malfunctioning machines and security problems)

    Much more detail on the kinds of problems you might see is below. This article concerns the VOTING — a later article will describe how to oversee the COUNTING. Feel free to distribute this information to your circle of influence.

    What to bring with you when you vote:

    1. Small audio recorder. Available for about $40 at Radio Shack. Smaller than a cell phone.
    – As soon as you get out of your car to go vote, hit “record.”
    – Make sure it is recording.
    – Then just ignore it, go to the polls, vote.
    – At all times, you should be discreet — you don’t need to hide the recorder, but waving it around is asking someone to object.
    – The objective is to get OTHER people on the recording, not your own voice. Ask simple questions — it’s the answers that count. Don’t make speeches and don’t be confrontational. Make sure that what is recorded depicts you as a reasonable and polite person.
    – See state rules on freedom to tape without consent, at bottom

    2. Take your cell phone or a small camera. Use it to take pictures if something goes wrong, and to call the media.

    3. Small pocket notebook so you can record location, names, machine serial numbers if needed.

    See this article:
    for an easy guide to gadgets like audio recorders and videocams.

    Now let’s get into more detail:

    Voter eligibility problems

    1. Suppose you try to vote but they say you’re not registered?
    Start with prevention — Rules have been changing. Check on the status of your voter registration well before the election.

    If it’s election day and you are told you’re not registered: Request a provisional ballot. They must give you a provisional ballot, but it won’t count if the records show you are not registered. Voting by provisional ballot is significantly inferior to same-day or absentee voting, since these ballots may not be counted if it “won’t make a difference” and sometimes are not accounted for very well.

    2. Suppose you try to vote but they ask for ID?
    Best thing to do: Bring a valid photo ID just in case. Some states have changed the law and do now require it.

    Access to the polls

    1. What if your polling place is closed when you get there?
    First, prevention – many polling places have changed due to new disability requirements; some have been eliminated due to the cost of buying new voting machines. Check with the elections office (don’t depend on friends or news publications). Make sure you go to the right place in the first place, and allow extra time.

    2. What if you know it is the right location, but can’t find where to vote?

    Sometimes the voting location is in another part of the building. Look for signs and ask, and use your audio recorder to capture any obstructiveness by any public officials.

    3. What if you can see the polling place, but it isn’t open for business?

    Document this with your audio recorder and ask lots of questions. Take photos of the lines. Record conversation if people have to leave and are unable to vote. Get their name if possible. Note the poll locaton and the time.

    If poll opening is significantly delayed, call the media. If it is delayed more than an hour, report it to someone who has access to lawyers (such as a candidate or legislative representative). Briefing papers may need to reach a judge by 11 a.m. or noon in order to extend the hours for that polling place.

    If poll opening is delayed due to voting machine problems, when you get inside ask questions of the poll workers and record their answers to document the problem.

    4. What if polls are open but lack the equipment or supplies to vote? For example, some of the voting machines are not working, there aren’t enough ballots, or some other item (like a card encoder or check-in computer) is not working?

    Ask questions and make sure your audio recorder is running to capture the answers. Don’t get confrontational — this isn’t about hearing your own voice on audio, it’s about documenting the explanations and answers you get.

    You generally cannot take photos or video inside a polling place — but some places will allow this. If you can get a photo that shows the problem, do so.

    Here are things to jot down in your notebook if you witness a problem:
    – Precinct location
    – Names of poll workers
    – Name of your county/township elections chief
    – Names and contact info for any other citizens who witnessed the disenfranchisement

    Voter intimidation or discrimination

    1. What if you witness discriminatory or hostile procedures? Examples include inappropriate challenges of voters, ethnically inappropriate remarks, or police checkpoints or surveillance of polling places.

    Make sure your audio recorder is running before you get there, and keep it running. These things happen by surprise.

    Get photos of any obstruction, and note the location, names of witnesses, names of perpetrators.

    Voting machine problems

    Most states have a mixture of optical scan machines (which use paper ballots) and DRE machines (touch-screen or roll-a-dial computers).

    The DRE machines have significantly more issues.

    If you have a choice between a DRE and a paper ballot optical scan, always choose the paper ballot.

    Here’s what to look for with DRE machines:

    – Your vote shows up on the wrong choice
    – You can’t see the paper record of your vote (some states don’t have one, but in states with a DRE voter verified paper trail, it may be hidden under a brown door or other obstruction)
    – Confusing machine: Hard to figure out how to use it
    – A candidate or question is missing from the screen
    – The screen automatically fills in votes you don’t want
    – The screen fails to report to you that your vote has been accepted. Usually it will say something like “vote cast” — or the message can be more confusing, like “choices printed.”
    – Voting machines aren’t running
    – You see an error messages on the screen
    – You see an administrative or technician screen instead of the ballot choices
    – The voting machine crashes or freezes
    – The voting machine screen is dim, has lines through it, colors are distorted or is otherwise hard to read.
    – Your card won’t work
    – (For accessible machines) The accessibility function aren’t working (headphones, large text, keypads, sip n puff)
    – Repairman is working on one of the voting machines

    What to do: Write down (or photograph with your cell phone) anything that looks “weird”.

    Have your audio recorder on and ask questions, record the answers. Even if you are technically savvy, keep your questions simple and innocent and you’ll elicit more information. For example:

    – “What’s that?”
    – “Who’s that guy?”
    – “How come he’s…”
    – “What’s he doing?”
    – “What did he just put in the machine?”
    – “Where’s he taking that?”
    – “Where do those cables go?”
    – “Where are the [Diebold/ES&S] guys?”

    If possible, stand around and watch if someone comes to fix your machine. Ask a couple simple questions and audio-record the answers.

    Optical scan machines

    – Kicks out your ballot or won’t take it
    – There is a little window or message screen on the optical scan machine. Look at it before you run your ballot through. Watch what it says before, during and after. Record or photograph any weird messages on the screen (such as “ballot not read.”)
    – Make sure to notice and document if voted ballots are being kept on a counter, basket, or a locaton that is not sealed. Correctly designed optical scan systems make your ballot disappear into a sealed box. With the Diebold AccuVote scanners, for example, it is a large black box upon which the scanner sits.

    Absentee and mail-in ballots
    – What if you don’t receive your ballot?

    Contact your elections division — better yet, visit, and straighten it out. There are several reasons why you may not get your ballot. Allow enough time before the election to resolve these issues, because they crop up frequently for a variety of innocent reasons.

    – What if you receive the wrong ballot? Photograph your blank ballot and retain evidence, then visit your elections office to resolve the issue. Bring an audio recorder with you to the elections office to record the answers.

    Viewing the central tabulator will be a separate article.

    Guidelines for audio recording

    Some states allow audio recording only in public places, but all voting environments are public settings, so you can record. In most states, you can hide your audio recorder. In the 10 states at very bottom, you’ll probably want to have your recorder visible, though it can be discreet. For example, clip it on your purse or your belt.

    Most states allow “single party consent” recording, which means that if one party knows there is recording, it’s fine. You are one person, so you can record legally in the single party consent states without showing anyone your recorder.

    Here are the single party consent states, which generally mean that you can record with a hidden recorder:

    District Of Columbia
    New Jersey
    New Mexico
    New York
    North Carolinia
    North Dakota
    Rhode Island
    South Carolina
    South Dakota
    West Virginia

    The following states are two-party consent, which means you must do your recording in a public setting and it is best to make the recorder visible, though it can be quite small and discreetly placed.

    New Hampshire

    In all cases, the recommendation is to switch it on BEFORE you get to the location and just leave it running. This way you’ll capture surprise events and won’t feel flustered.



    Democrats, NAACP and other voting rights groups need to start talking about machine-free elections with hand counted paper ballots. Otherwise, it is more of the same.


    Voting rights groups ‘block’ talk of machine-free elections

    By Lynn Landes

    Online Journal Contributing Writer

    December 17, 2004—So much for a free and fair exchange of ideas. At conferences and hearings across the country, traditional voting rights organizations have successfully blocked any serious debate on machine-free, paper-only elections. It appears that our well-entrenched so-called ‘voting rights’ organizations, including the NAACP and ACLU, haven’t absorbed the lesson from America’s election debacles. They would rather invite the industry-funded National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) to speak at their conferences, than invite researchers and activists who will argue that the machines must go.

    The Dec. 7 conference in Washington, DC, Voting 2004: A Report to the Nation on America’s Election Process, sponsored by Common Cause, The Century Foundation, and LCCR (Leadership Conference on Civil Rights) was no exception. Instead of fighting for the peoples’ right to a paper ballot and a hand count, the conference adopted the and Congressman Rush Holt’s (D-NJ) prescription for voting integrity. It is beyond worthless.

    It gives people false hope, instead of a sensible solution. Holt’s legislation calls for ballot printers and audits. First, that leaves the machines in the voting process—ready, willing, and able to malfunction, break down, or not show up—causing chaos and confusion. Ballot printers won’t fix that.

    Second, it proposes spot audits, which leaves the counting of ballots in the hands of the very election officials who prove with each new election how truly inept or completely evil they really are. And third, the only time paper ballots will be counted is in case of a “close” election, ensuring that perpetrators of vote fraud will steal a sufficient number of votes to avoid triggering a recount.

    At the conference, I privately asked Rep.Holt about the shortcomings to his legislation. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

    When I asked what happens when the machines malfunction (ballot printers and all), Holt said something about “emergency ballots”. When I asked what “emergency ballots” were, he said that it’s up to the states. It was obvious that he is not accustomed to tough questions. That’s strange, I thought. I’ve been communicating with Michele Moulder of Holt’s staff for the past two years. So how could he be so unprepared to defend his legislation?

    When I asked Ms. Moulder why the conference was not discussing the machine-free/paper-only election option, she said that people just weren’t “there” yet. I surmised she meant that people weren’t ready to consider that option. But judging from the reaction to my articles and speeches, I suggested to her that a growing number of people are already “there.” And more people might be “there” if the issue was allowed to be on the agenda at these conferences. She smiled and walked away.

    The conference organizers did graciously allow members of the audience to ask questions.

    I was one of the first up. I, of course, questioned the effectiveness of ballot printers and audits. Wade Henderson, executive director of the LCCR, and with whom I have spoken personally, was ready for me. He neatly batted the birdie back across the net, responding that my questions would be addressed later on in the conference.
    That really never happened.

    So, just before the conference ended, I waited my turn again and then spoke into the microphone. I asked Mr. Henderson why the organizers were not debating the machine-free option. He said that machine-free elections were up for discussion in that I was there bringing it up.

    Welcome to the world of Wade.

    One question does not a debate make. And the panelists who answered me included in their responses enough baloney to choke a horse. That’s par for the course. Voting rights organizations are misleading the pubic on several critical issues. At the “Claim Democracy” conference in Washington last year, speakers from several organizations, including DEMOS (whoever the heck they really are) were running around telling audiences that HAVA (Help America Vote Act) requires that each precinct have a touchscreen voting machine for the disabled. Actually, Rush Holt’s Ms. Moulder insisted on it. To her credit, she was open to be corrected. She had a copy of the act in her hotel room, so we ran up and read it. I pointed out the pertinent passage and she accepted the fact that HAVA does not require voting machines for the disabled.

    The alleged need for voting machines for the disabled often gets trotted out at these conferences. Forget the fact that the blind can vote privately and independently using tactile paper ballots and audio assistance; something that is used all over the world as well as in Vermont and other states. Forget the fact that voting machines can cheat the disabled as easily as the able-bodied. Forget the fact that voting machines are harder for the disabled to use; that it will take the blind significantly longer to vote on a machine than to be assisted by a person of their choice. Forget the fact that two leading associations for the blind have received over $1 million dollars from the voting machine industry to flog their wares. These things are never mentioned because conference organizers make sure that the debate is never allowed.

    Discussion about the accuracy of voting machines is also fodder for disinformation. Take Dr. Ted Selker of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), please. At the conference, he once again blathered about “residual votes” (i.e., overvotes and undervotes), claiming that “new” machines are better than old machines. How wonderful for the industry. Selker avoids the real elephant in the closet—that voting machines can be easily rigged and impossible to safeguard. Selker claims that voting machines reduce undervotes and overvotes, when in fact, he can provide no evidence that the voting machines don’t add and subtract votes on command or willy-nilly.

    But, the most shocking response to my question at the conference came from Dr. Avi Rubin. He said that Americans would not go back to paper ballots. He said that one day we’ll all be using our home computers to vote. So much for all Avi’s first-rate reports on voting machine insecurity. He just endorsed voting by electronic ether. Can an endorsement of VoteHere’s products and services, on whose technical advisory board Avi sat for two years, be far behind?

    It’s time for a good hard look in the mirror. Voting machines have been around since 1892. Why have the voting rights groups failed for so long to recognized the tremendous threat to basic civil rights these machines pose? When the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed why didn’t these groups question the use of voting machines? Why didn’t they stop and consider that all the good the act would do, would be rendered moot by these technological Trojan Horses? Sure, a few minority congressmen have made it to Congress, but that doesn’t mean that elections haven’t been routinely rigged. The U.S. Congress does not remotely represent the diversity of people or opinions in the general population.

    Didn’t these voting rights groups notice that Craig Donsanto, chief of the U.S. Department of Justice Election Crimes Branch, has sat on his hands for the past 30 years. He has refused to seriously investigate complaints of vote fraud, particularly when it involved computerized voting machines. Actually, that guy doesn’t seem to investigate much of anything, ever. Why haven’t these groups made an issue of Donsanto?

    Even if the voting rights groups weren’t sensitive before, the elections of 2000 should have concentrated their minds on the limitless problems and endless threats voting machines assure a democracy. So, why didn’t they say one word in public protest when the DNC (Democratic National Committee) allowed the use of Internet voting in the 2004 Democratic primary in Michigan?

    It makes a person question everything about these organizations. Ever wondered why the voters who were unfairly purged from the rolls in Florida are still not back on the list? It seems that instead of getting a court order, the voting rights groups (including the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP), agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the state of Florida. Four years later, disenfranchised citizens are still not on the voter rolls.

    Four years after the 2000 election, voting machines are causing more problems than ever. Someone needs to get a clue. At least let’s have a real debate, Wade.


    Coalition’s support of voting machines causes confusion

    By Lynn Landes

    Online Journal Contributing Writer

    WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 20, 2004—The situation was somewhat surreal. At Thursday’s press conference in The Governor’s House Hotel, representatives of the ‘Election Verification Project’, a coalition of technologists, voting rights and legal organizations, seemed strangely out of touch with reality and their own past concerns, as they promoted a plan that leaves voting machines firmly entrenched in the election process.

    Public doubt continues to grow over the 2004 election results. That doubt is rooted in suspicions surrounding the use of voting machines, suspicions that these very groups helped to cultivate.

    Contradictory claims abounded. Kim Alexander, of The California Voter Foundation, sang the praises of touchscreen machines, despite the mayhem she admits their use caused in this year’s election. “Problems were reported with all vendors and across most of the states that use e-voting. Electronic voting machines lost votes in North Carolina, miscounted votes in Ohio, and broke down in New Orleans, causing long lines and shutdowns at polling places, ” she said.

    Alexander added to the confusion at the press conference when she boasted that ” . . . there was no nation-wide meltdown.” She didn’t appear to grasp what computer scientists, including Dr. David Dill who was standing right next to her, have been warning for years—that widespread vote fraud or system failure could easily occur and no one would ever know. Over 99 percent of all ballots were counted by machines: lever, computerized ballot scanners, or touchscreens. Poll watchers can stare at these machines all they want, but they’re not going to learn much.

    While acknowledging that voting rights organizations across the country are still receiving thousands of complaints about voting machine malfunctions and complete breakdowns, project members continued to promote the use of ballot printers and spot audits as an adequate solution to the problem. The group even published a manual for poll monitors that had the appearance of an industry buyers guide and included only minimal coverage of problems association with each type of equipment. Inexplicably, touchscreen voting machines with ballot printer attachments, although available, were not listed in the manual.

    In an interview with this journalist, Dr. Dill of The Verified Voting Foundation, admitted that when a voting machine malfunctions or breaks down, the ballot printer is pretty much useless. Adding to that bad news (at what was clearly meant to be an upbeat press conference), one speaker noted that voters who were given provisional ballots in cases of machine malfunction, may not have had their votes counted at all in this past election.

    According to their mission statement, the proposed reforms of the Election Verification Project are designed to increase transparency in the voting process from registration to tabulation, including: federal and state legislation requiring a voter-verified paper record, mandatory national electronic voting standards, and routine auditing of computerized vote counts. However, observers note that all these proposals taken together do not add up to a transparent process in any meaningful way. This is a plan that leaves easily rigged and malfunctioning machines in the voting process, permits elections officials to control any audits, and denies citizens the right to have every vote counted at the local level.

    Whatever the goal of the press conference organizers, their message seemed to sow more confusion than offer a realistic solution for angry and suspicious voters.

    Other speakers included: Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause; Lillie Coney of Electronic Privacy Information Center; Matt Zimmerman of Electronic Frontier Foundation; and Will Doherty, of Verified Voting Foundation.

    Lynn Landes is one of the nation’s leading journalists on voting technology and democracy issues. Readers can find her articles at Lynn is a former news reporter for DUTV and commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Contact info: [email protected] / (215) 629-3553.


    The remedy for No Evidence and Hidden Evidence Elections is to return Evidence to Elections.


    PLAN B

    Mark Crispin Miller

    A call to arms on this Fourth of July!

    Here, friends, is a clarion call from a great new group–the Election Defense Alliance (EDA). I’m proud to say that I am on the board of this endeavor, and can vouch for the integrity, intelligence and patriotic spirit of all those who put the EDA together.

    Please send this email far and wide. This a group that really gets it.



    “We’re counting the votes. Get over it.”


    Will you volunteer to hand count votes if needed?

    Sign up for everything here:


    PLAN B

    Lynn Landes


    In addition to Parallel Elections is a simple idea suggested by Lynn Landes: Right after you vote on Election Day, send to the candidate(s) for whom you voted a postcard or letter with your name, address, and signature, and simply state that you voted for him/her. Candidates can use that information to challenge “official” election results. Candidates of any party should not concede until they have canvassed some or all precincts to check on official election results.


Comments are closed.