EAC to issue voting-system revision for comment

The Election Assistance Commission expects to release a major revision of its Voluntary Voting System Guidelines for comment shortly, beginning a four-step process for approving a new set of standards that can be used by states for certifying voting systems.

The commission describes the new guidelines as a complete rewrite of the standards adopted in 2005. Although voluntary, the guidelines have been used by most states for certifying voting systems. The guidelines address the reliability, quality, usability, accessibility, security and testing of systems. The new draft prohibits wireless connections on electronic voting systems, addresses software independence and contains updated requirements for a voter-verifiable paper audit trail on electronic systems.

The guidelines apply to any type of voting system but have generated a great deal of attention because of questions about the security and reliability of electronic touch-screen systems. California recently decertified most of the electronic voting systems used in that state because of vulnerabilities found in a review by the University of California.

Because the approval process calls for two, four-month comment periods and two possible rewrites of the guidelines, it is not likely that the new version will be available for the 2008 primary and general elections.

The Election Assistance Commission was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 as a response to balloting problems in the contested 2000 presidential election. It took over responsibility for certification standards, which previously had been developed by the Federal Election Commission and administered by state election officials. The new guidelines were developed by the commission's Technical Guidelines Development Committee with help from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The commission also accredits test labs to certify voting systems based on the recommendations of NIST's National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program. Nine companies have submitted systems for certification.

The commission plans to publish the draft in the Federal Register by Sept. 20 and post it on a Web site with a tool for submitting comments. The draft will be available for comment for 120 days, after which comments will be reviewed and the guidelines revised. The revised version will be posted for another 120-day comment period, and public hearings will be held. Final revisions will be made and the guidelines voted on by the commission. The approved guidelines will be published in the Federal Register.

The current version of the guidelines generated 6,000 comments when released for review in 2005.

William Jackson writes for Government Computer News, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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