Federal Commission is Told New Certification Process for E-Voting Systems Is Too Difficult for Vendors, Too Slow to Approve New Systems...
By John Gideon on 7/14/2008, 7:29pm PT  

Guest Blogged by John Gideon, VotersUnite

As set up by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) receives some advice from a Board of Advisors. The Board is made up of a set number of people representing groups like the National Association of Secretaries of State; National Governors Association; International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers; congressional leaders; and even two members of The Election Center, a vendor-sponsored group that promotes electronic voting. There are no voters groups and no one from the election integrity community on the Board. But then, who cares what the voters think?

The Board of Advisors is advising [PDF, pg 7] the EAC, via resolution, that they need to speed-up the certification process for voting systems. They want the system to be what it was under the old, rubber-stamp system headed by the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED). They want the same system of testing and certification that has resulted in our voting systems failing in many elections and not even being compliant with federal standards.

Incredibly, the Board's recommendation to the EAC goes so far as to admit that a failed "common practice" of the past should, apparently, be re-instituted under the newer certification system. "The common practice since the introduction of electronic voting systems," they wrote, "has been to make hardware and software upgrades based on issues found in the most recent election in sufficient time to improve the voting systems for the next general election."

That is a stunning admission. That that is a system they'd like to return to is even more stunning.

The EAC is holding a public meeting in Phoenix later this month and the Board of Advisors' resolution is to be discussed by the commissioners. I sent the following email to the commissioners and staff of the EAC to voice my concerns about the resolution.

My letter to them follows in full below...

Commissioners and Staff

The EAC Board of Advisors Resolution 2008-3 is a shocking recommendation against the EAC's decision to carry out the voting system certification process responsibly. One has to wonder whether the Board's recommendation is in the best interest of the EAC and the people of the United States or the best interest of the voting machine industry.

The Board mentions that previous to the EAC taking control of voting system certification, a volunteer process was operated by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED). This “volunteer process” was actually run with the same lack of care as a “volunteer process” is often run. While they did “qualify” voting systems and oversaw a flawed, vendor-controlled, Independent Test Authority process; the process was conducted in such a way as to result in error-prone voting systems being on the market with NASED’s approval. No “qualified” voting systems were tested to ensure compliance with HAVA Section 301(a)(3). Voting systems that were qualified by NASED regularly violate HAVA Section 301(a)(5), which means that testing to the Voting System Standards either was not accomplished at all or was not properly done.

As an example of how flawed the NASED process was, one of its ITAs, Ciber, was denied interim accreditation, and only now, after over a year, the lab is being reconsidered for accreditation. While the denial of accreditation was for not notifying the EAC that key employees had left the company, the EAC, in a February 1, 2007 letter to the company, reported non-compliance to appropriate ISO/IEC standards and the NIST Handbooks. The company that had been entrusted with testing a majority of the software of NASED qualified voting systems had kept such poor records that it was impossible to determine how much testing had actually been accomplished or what the results had been. These were voting systems that were qualified under the “volunteer process” established by NASED.

The Board then goes on to mention that the EAC would not accept the testing performed by NASED. The Board incorrectly uses the term “certification testing”. In fact no “certification testing” was ever accomplished by NASED or the ITAs. NASED merely attested that the equipment had been tested and that it "qualified" as meeting the federal standards.

Based on the history of voting machine failures over the past four years, on NASED-qualified voting systems, no wonder the EAC refused to accept the testing performed by NASED. The system was a failure and the voting systems it qualified are failures.

The Board then goes on to make a statement that gives credence to information the Election Integrity community has known for years and that the vendors and their supporters have denied. The Board says: “the common practice since the introduction of electronic voting systems has been to make hardware and software upgrades based on issues found in the most recent election in sufficient time to improve the voting systems for the next general election”. This is a stunning admission.

It has been clear to the EI community that voting systems were being “beta tested” in real elections. The Board has now acknowledged the truth of it. Rather than provide a product that was properly designed, manufactured, and tested, the voting machine industry has manufactured and sold inadequately tested products, and real elections, with real voters voting for real candidates, have been used to test those products so improvements could be made in the next election.

Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, was just quoted on this very subject in Wired Magazine’s “Threat Level” blog:

"There's no way the vendor could be adequately reviewing the machines and having so many problems," he told Threat Level. "What it tells us is that the vendor just throws this stuff over the transom and does not do any alpha- or beta-testing of their own before they apply for certification testing. Then they expect that we'll identify technical glitches and then they'll correct those glitches. But correction of those glitches is an extraordinarily time-consuming process. And its very disappointing that this equipment is not ready for prime time."

The Board then posits that the current EAC process, if not made quicker, will cause states to consider moving away from the federal certification process. Many states already do NOT require that voting systems be federally certified though many of those do require compliance to the voting system guidelines. Though the Board warns that the states will have varying standards; that is already the case.

The Board then resolves that the certification process must be sped up so states can use updated systems this year. They do not appear to be aware of the fact that, at this late date, most jurisdictions would correctly be reluctant to deploy new systems for 2008. They do not appear to be concerned with the fact that the process is slow because voting systems are failing the EAC's testing. They do not appear to care whether or not voting systems comply with HAVA Section 301. By recommending that roadblocks and barriers be removed from the process, the Board is actually recommending that EAC continue the flawed NASED process of years past and allow voting systems to be Beta Tested in November so the vendors can fix the problems before elections the next year.

The EAC must reject this resolution and continue the process of testing voting systems that, we hope, will not need to be “beta tested” in November.