House voting board has been upgraded a lot since the ’70s

As the chief of Legislative Computer Systems in the Clerk’s Office from 2001 to 2005, I was quite surprised to see The Hill report on Aug. 15 that the “technology used to count votes on the House floor appears to have been updated little since the 1970s” (article, “After glitches, panel to issue report on House voting board on Sept. 30”).

During my tenure, we ported the system from a 1993 DEC VAX system to a fault-tolerant Unix platform, replaced all of the voting stations with newer technology, upgraded the indicator lights on the main display from incandescent to LED, and added various security features to the cards and the system. I believe these changes represented the fourth major upgrade of the electronic voting system for the House.

If members were unaware the system was updated, it was possibly because keeping outer appearances the same was intentional. Any change to the electronic voting system — or anything in the chamber, for that matter — always needed to take into account the tradition of the chamber and our “fewer changes to the chamber is better” philosophy. Clearly, the goal is to make the voting system as simple and transparent for members as possible while maintaining maximum security and reliability.

To me, the electronic voting system of the House of Representatives is the most important computer system that is used for political purposes in the United States. The proposition that the voting system of the House hasn’t been updated substantially since the 1970s is just flat wrong and, with all due respect, an affront to the hardworking staff of the Legislative Computer Systems and the Clerk’s Office that have upgraded and maintained the system since 1973.

Although I do not know the specific cause of the voting system problems on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3, I am confident the problems were not due to the modernization or lack of modernization of the system, and any failures would certainly not have been avoided if biometrics were part of the system as your article implies.

Columbia, Md.



Feinstein’s role in Southwick hubbub
From Jonathan Strong

In Manu Raju’s Sept. 7 article “Senator Lott drawing fire on race from civil rights groups,” the reporter details the background behind Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) sole Democratic vote to move President Bush’s nomination of Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 The reporter then quotes a leader of one civil rights group (not “groups,” as stated in the headline) and an African-American House member, who criticize Senator Lott, and another African-American House member (albeit the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus) who is critical of the Southwick nomination.

 Assuming for the sake of discussion that Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and the Southwick nomination deserve criticism, where is the criticism of Sen. Feinstein?

Washington



Lamborn’s aggression toward citizens was OK
From Joseph Leppard

What earthly value does the article have that was written on Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn? (“Rep. Lamborn apologizes,” Sept. 5.) Seemingly, The Hill has a penchant for scandal rather than good hard news. I do not think the article has anything to do with the common good of this country, but rather, is actually nothing more than a misunderstanding between two parties that can’t agree. Granted, Mr. Lamborn’s aggressive tone can take on meaning, but if anyone decides to make statements against me and continues through editorials and publications, then, please, aggressive conversation is necessary. This is nothing but “getting back” time.

Palestine, Texas