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Voluntary Voting Standards Reviewed during House Committee Joint Hearing

New York, Jul 21, 2006

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science and the Committee on House Administration held a joint hearing this week to review the 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), and to examine their effectiveness in improving the accuracy and integrity of the nation’s voting systems.

“Elections are obviously the keystone of our entire democratic system. If elections are not seen as legitimate, the entire American system unravels,” said U.S. Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-New Hartford), chairman of the House Science Committee. “I hope that today our committees will get clear guidance on what needs to be done to ensure that . . . standards are capable of preventing problems with electronic voting machines, and to encourage states to adopt and effectively implement those standards.”

Developed by the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) under charter by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), the 2005 VVSG were approved by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) last December. The guidelines contain requirements for vendors when developing voting systems and for testing laboratories when evaluating the systems for conformance to the standard’s requirements.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) serves as chair of the TGDC. NIST director William Jeffrey was on hand at the hearing to discuss the current and future efforts of the TGDC to advance the guidelines.

“The VVSG 2005 built upon the strengths of the previous voting systems standards and enhanced areas needing improvement and added new material,” said Jeffrey. “The new material focuses primarily on usability, accessibility, and security.” NIST will begin development on an open test suite in fiscal year 2007 that will help to ensure the uniform and consistent testing of voting system requirements.

NIST has also been directed to recommend testing laboratories to the EAC for accreditation. To accomplish this, NIST is utilizing its National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP). The laboratories applying for accreditation to test voting systems will be required to meet the international standard, ISO/IEC 17025, General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories.

To date, NVLAP has received applications for accreditation from five laboratories [See related article: Applications Now Available for National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program for Voting System Testing].

Witnesses at the hearing also expressed concern that federal funding would not cover the costs incurred from ongoing modifications to the 2005 guidelines, and that continued expenses would fall to state and local governments, further slowing state adoption of the standards.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there remains widespread inconsistency between state uses of federal voting standards. The 2005 guidelines will not officially go into effect until December 2007. Prior to this date, individual state legislatures have the option to adopt all or part of the guidelines. Two earlier sets of voluntary standards—developed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 1990 and 2002—also remain open for use.

“State adoption of the federal Voluntary Voting System Guidelines is what makes the system effective,” said John Groh, chairman of the Election Technology Council, Information Technology Association of America. “The adherence to standards and rigor of the certification process is critical to maintaining the integrity of our elections.”

Recognizing the need for continued updates to the standards, NIST and the TGDC have already begun work on the next iteration of the voting guidelines—VVVSG 2007—which are slotted for delivery to the EAC in July 2007.

“The VVSG 2007 builds upon the VVSG 2005 but takes a fresh look at many of the requirements,” said Jeffrey. “It will be a larger, more comprehensive standard, with more thorough treatments of security areas and requirements for equipment integrity and reliability. The requirements will be structured so as to improve their clarity to vendors and their testability by testing labs.”

Links to all speaker remarks and an archived webcast are available on the House Committee on Science website.

 Homeland Defense and Security Standardization Collaborative