Experts sought for voting machine standards

The Election Assistance Commission, which oversees guidelines for certifying voting equipment, is looking for technical experts to serve on the committee that is rewriting these guidelines.

The Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) is an advisory panel that provides technical assistance and advice in revising the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) used by states to certify voting equipment. Created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, four of the 15 spots on the committee are reserved for technical experts.

“To fill these four expert positions, we are looking for individuals with innovative ideas and expertise from academia and/or the public and private sector,” EAC said in announcing its search. “These individuals will work as part of the TGDC to provide recommendations for the next version of the federal Voluntary Voting System Guidelines.”

EAC, together with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are in the middle of a major revision of the current guidelines, first adopted in 2005. Because elections are administered by states rather than the federal government the EAC guidelines are voluntary, but a majority of states require compliance with some version of them for their voting systems. The major revision, known as the Next Iteration VVSG or VVST 2.0, is expected to be completed in 2011. But EAC released an interim update of the guidelines known as VVSG 1.1 on June 1 for a 120-day public comment period.

The interim update is intended to improve the efficiency of compliance testing by including new software development and testing protocols and practices. This includes the development of uniform test suites by NIST. This revision will also clarify the standard, providing test labs and voting system manufacturers with a clearer sense of performance and test requirements for EAC certification.

Prior to the creation of EAC, testing and certification of voting systems was overseen by an organization of state election officials using a set of national voting system standards created in 1990 by the Federal Election Commission. In 2002 EAC was given responsibility for updating these standards and overseeing the testing and certification, which resulted in the present set of guidelines.

The guidelines and the testing are intended to address concerns that have arisen in the last decade about the reliability and security of voting systems, particularly electronic systems. As electronic systems have become more widely adopted to avoid the confusion created by mechanical systems with paper ballots in the 2000 election, critics have pointed out that computer-based systems are subject to the same security vulnerabilities and failings as other IT systems.

Public comments made during the development of Next Iteration guidelines showed the need for an interim revision in the VVSG so that needed improvements in the testing process for certification could be made more quickly.

“By revising the guidelines now, the EAC expects to improve the test process over the short term while allowing additional time to develop more complex revisions to be included in the second complete iteration of the guidelines, the VVSG Version 2.0,” EAC said.

The revisions are expected to yield immediate improvements to the test process and be easily implemented, replacing outdated practices with modern, proven methods that improve the development, analysis and testing of voting system logic. They do not require hardware changes or significant software changes. The proposed revisions are limited to usability and accessibility, security, and issues such as software workmanship.

Comments may be e-mailed to votingsystemguidelines@eac.gov or mailed to Voluntary Voting System Guidelines Comments, U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 1225 New York Avenue NW, Suite 1100, Washington DC 20005. In addition, an online comment tool will be available this summer at www.eac.gov.

The final version of VVSG 1.1 is expected to be released late this year.

Members of the development committee serve for four years and are not paid for their work, but travel expenses are reimbursed. The technical experts are considered special governmental employees and are required to submit annual financial disclosure forms to identify potential conflicts of interest. They should have a high level of experience with and knowledge of voting equipment, software engineering, security, cryptography, usability and accessibility needs. Resumes should be submitting by Sept. 8 to Special Assistant, Mary Anne Bradfield at U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 1225 New York Avenue NW, Suite 1100, Washington DC 20005. Additional information on qualifications is available from Bradfield at 202-566-2256, Fax: 202-566-1392, or by e-mail at mbradfieldeac@gmail.com

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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