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Voting Systems Standards Released by Federal Election Commission

ANSI Members Participate in Upgrading Voting Technology

New York, May 28, 2002

The cornerstone of American democracy is the right to choose freely-elected officials to public office. When the accuracy of voting equipment is called into question, as it was during the 2000 presidential elections, so is the entire U.S. election system. To restore faith in the election process, it behooves the federal government to take action.

"The main focus of the Federal Election Commission's (FEC) project to develop standards for election equipment is to ensure that the U.S. voting process accurately reflects the wishes of the American people," explained Penelope Bonsall, director of the FEC Office of Election Administration. "These standards should preclude a recurrence of the problems associated with the 2000 presidential elections to the extent that voting equipment was the cause."

An independent regulatory agency created in 1975 to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act, the FEC spent three-years developing and revising Voting System Standards (VSS) to ensure the reliability of certified election equipment used in local, state and federal elections. The standards cover the functionality and testing of paper-based, i.e., punchcards, and electronic, i.e., touch screens or keyboards, systems as well as performance features such as vote tallying and audit trails. The primary goal of VSS is to provide a mechanism for state and local election officials to assure the public of the integrity of computer-based election systems and to provide a common set of requirements across all voting technologies. Draft VSS documents were released for public review and comment twice this year and were published in their final form in late April. According to the FEC, the drafts generated significant interest from a variety of interests whose views are reflected in the final version.

Among the contributors to the document was Stephen Berger, chairman of the working group developing a "Standard for the Evaluation of Voting Equipment" (BSR/IEEE 1583-200x), which emanates from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), an ANSI member and ANSI-accredited standards developer. Berger and his group are credited with providing technical input for testing criteria and security. "In our discussions with the FEC," said Berger, "it was decided that additional work should to be done to address usability and security issues; this is the focus of BSR/IEEE 1583." Berger estimates that the standard is 18 months from completion at which time its requirements and evaluation methods for election voting equipment could be incorporated into the VSS. The IEEE-led coalition consists of representatives from the organization's technical societies as well as other technical organizations and agencies including the FEC and ANSI membership organizations, the Human Factors & Ergonomic Society and ASTM International.

"The FEC should be commended on their effort to develop voting systems standards that strike the appropriate balance to move the industry forward while not creating significant disruptions to the current process," Berger noted. "If the technology should move ahead too quickly, equipment vendors would have difficulty building their products to meet new specifications."

Revised equipment performance features include defining, developing and maintaining election databases, formatting ballots, counting votes, consolidating and reporting results and maintaining audit trails; and voter feedback mechanisms to indicate under- or overvoting; and accessibility requirements for disabled persons. Also included are testing and organizational features to better suit the needs of different user groups and improve readability. Issues not covered in the revised standards deal with administrative functions and managerial practices carried out by individuals, of which many are volunteers. Bonsall pointed out that this component of the voting process will be the focus of future proposed FEC standards initiatives. She explained, "The revised standards are one important component of the voting process, not its panacea."

Thus far, the FEC's voting standards have been adopted by approximately 40 states with an increase expected in the near future as a result of the release of the revised standards. Although the need for enhanced voting systems standards was emphasized as a result of the problems associated with the 2000 presidential elections, the FEC began developing performance standards for electronic voting equipment over 25 years ago. In 1975, the agency partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce and an ANSI member, to study the effective use of computing technology in vote tallying. Their report concluded that the basic cause of computer-related election problems was the lack of appropriate technical skills at the state and local level to develop or implement sophisticated standards against which voting system software and hardware could be tested. Subsequent Congressional studies identified the need to develop national performance standards in this area, and in 1990, the FEC formerly approved the first VSS with the intention to revise the standards as necessary.

Dr. Mark Hurwitz, CAE, ANSI president and chief executive officer, indicated his satisfaction in the government's reliance on the expertise of ANSI members in the development of voluntary consensus standards for election equipment. "Our nation was founded upon the ideals of democracy that assume our leaders are duly chosen 'by the people' in a fair and open election process," he explained. "I am confident that the participation of members of the voluntary standards community in improving voting procedures will prove immensely valuable to the federal government--and ultimately to our nation--as it strives to improve U.S. voting system."

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