Election Officials Adopt Compromise on Standards

The federal agency writing standards for election systems took a huge step
forward in improving how electronic voting machines are audited after
elections are held.

The Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) of the Election
Assistance Commission (EAC) unanimously adopted a resolution today that
requires “the next generation of voting systems to be software independent.”

Yesterday, the TGDC rejected a similar resolution made by Ron Rivest, chair
of the TGDC transparency and security subcommittee, that would have made this
requirement effective for current machines.

The failed resolution stated that voting systems should not depend solely on
the correctness of the software that tallied the votes so that “a previously
undetected change or error in the software cannot cause an undetectable
change or error in an election outcome.”

According to persons
familiar with the situation, Rivest spent the evening lobbying members of the TGDC and crafted compromise language that was passed
unanimously this morning.

The resolution that was adopted grandfathers machines that are already in
use, stating that current security concerns “do not warrant replacing
deployed voting systems where Election Assistance Commission Best Practices
are used.”

But it also requires the VVSG to recognize mounting security threats by
“requiring the next generation of voting systems to be software
independent.”

The resolution also calls for requirements “to ensure that systems that
produce independently verifiable voting records are reliable and provide
adequate support for audits.”

Later today, the TGDC is expected to address security issues regarding
wireless capabilities in voting machines and improved standards for the
paper-feeding mechanisms for DREs that are equipped with voter verifiable
paper audit trails (VVPAT).

Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA, an election integrity advocacy
group, said that the TGDC is preventing the full EAC from hearing hard
truths about the machines currently in use, but said he was nevertheless
hopeful that meaningful reform will be achieved in this area — in the
political arena if not the regulatory arena.

“The fact that they adopted a resolution that says that these changes have
to be made some day in the future is a really good thing. But the real
effect of this is going to be in providing momentum for legislation at both
the federal and local level,” he told internetnews.com.

John Gideon, executive director of Voters Unite, said he was disappointed by yesterday’s vote, and today’s
compromise language did nothing to convince him of the reliability of DREs
going forward.

“VVPAT is only a placebo and DREs need to go away,” he said.

Last week, the National Institute for
Technology and Standards (NIST) proposed that the next generation of the
VVSG, likely to be in force in 2009, decertify non-software independent
DREs.

The NIST report stated that machines currently in use are “more vulnerable
to undetected programming errors or malicious code and noted that as a
result, “potentially, a single programmer could ‘rig’ a major election”
without being detected.

Today’s vote was taken at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md.

According to an EAC spokesman, the TGDC will report its recommendations to
the EAC on Thursday at EAC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The TGDC is an advisory committee to the EAC and is responsible for writing
draft recommendations for voting guidelines. Once the TGDC gives the EAC its
recommendations, the EAC will issue an official draft of the VVSG and ask
for comments before issuing the final guidelines.

Former election officials and observers have noted that TGDC members have to
take political reality into consideration when weighing the technical
issues.

While election officials are under powerful political pressure to adhere to
the guidelines, the VVSG are voluntary. Deforest Soaries, the former
chairman of the EAC, explained that the TGDC cannot run the risk of crafting
regulations that are so strict that state election officials decide to
ignore them.


“Then you’ve wasted all of your time, so you have to come up with something
that’s palatable to the states, that has some scientific integrity, and that
takes into account the limited resources that you have. So it’s mission
impossible,” he told internetnews.com in October.

Stewart also noted that “it’s a tough position for election officials to
admit they spent money on flawed technology.”

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