Vote Trust USA

Corporate Control of Voting Equipment Certification: How Did The Sequoia VeriVote Printer System Get Qualified And Then Certified In California?
by John Gideon*

The voting systems qualification and certification process is broken. The vendors appear to manipulate the system in order to be certified by an Independent Testing Authority (ITA). A quick look at the voting systems that have been qualified this year shows that a vast majority of the hardware and firmware is only certified to the 1990 standards; while some of the software has been qualified to the newer and more stringent 2002 standards. This process of qualification seems to be almost capricious, as though it is done to the benefit of the vendors.

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A good example of this broken process is seen in the events surrounding the qualification and certification of the new Sequoia VeriVote vvpat printer. Sequoia developed this new add-on to their Sequoia AVC Edge electronic voting machine under pressure from the state of Nevada. The new printer was qualified, as part of a complete system, by an ITA, and the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED) gave Sequoia its „System ID Numberš on October 24, 2004.

The problem is that there are not now, and never have been, any standards developed by the Federal Elections Commission or the Technical Guidelines Development Committee for qualifying a vvpat printer. And, instead of turning to the newer, more stringent, 2002 standards, Sequoia chose to qualify their printer system hardware and firmware to the older 1990 standards.

Below is a snapshot of the NASED qualification details for the Sequoia voting system that includes the VeriVote Printer. Notice that the WinEDS software is qualified to 2002 standards but the voting system itself is only qualified to the 1990 standards.

Brian Hancock is the ITA Secretariat for NASED; so I sent Mr. Hancock an email and asked, „From the snap-shot of the applicable portion of the qualification list, can you tell me what standards were used to do that qualification? Is it qualified to 2002 or 1990 standards? Also, and more specifically, what standards are in effect for the qualification of VVPAT printers?š

Mr. Hancock responded to my email with the following:

"NASED Qualified the Sequoia voting system containing the VeriVote printer to the 1990 VSS. As you can see in your snapshot, some portions of the system (such as the software) were tested to the 2002 VSS, but until all portions of a system are fully 2002 compliant, the system retains a 1990 qualification. As you know, the 2002 VSS contained no requirements for VVPAT devices. The test labs could therefore only test these products against the manufacturers specifications, and to make sure the product interfaced properly with the rest of the voting system."

So, the vendor, the ITA hired by the vendor, and NASED have all qualified a new vvpat printer that will be used on voting machines across the country ų without testing it against any standards designed for vvpat printers. The VeriVote printer is being regarded as a valid method of providing a voter verified paper ballot for voters who vote on the Sequoia AVC Edge voting machine. This printer is also now the big selling point for Sequoia as they attempt to satisfy the states that require a vvpat.

But wait! There is more. Remember that the EAC is the keeper of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). They have overall responsibility, via NASED, for ensuring systems meet the federal standards as well as ensuring that all systems comply with HAVA.

HAVA Section 301(a)(3) states that „the voting system shall be accessible for individuals with disabilities, including nonvisual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.š

In a Department of Justice finding, Sheldon Bradshaw, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel, found that (highlighting added):

"A direct recording electronic voting system that produces a contemporaneous paper record, which is not accessible to sight-impaired voters but which allows sighted voters to confirm that their ballots accurately reflect their choices before the system officially records their votes, would be consistent with the Help America Vote Act and with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so long as the voting system provides a similar opportunity for sight-impaired voters to verify their ballots before those ballots are finally cast."

So, we know that disabled voters must have the same ability to verify their votes as non-disabled voters. This is law in HAVA and is agreed to by the Attorney General of the United States.

Why is this important? On January 14, 2005 the state of California refused to immediately certify the Sequoia VeriVote printer for use. Why? The Secretary of State‚s Elections Division found that the Sequoia VeriVote printer did not meet the state‚s „Accessible Voter Verified Paper Audit Trailš standards, and stated the following (highlighting added):

"There are still two issues where state testing of the VeriVote found that the system failed to meet California‚s AVVPAT standards.

"1. Section 2.4.3.1.2 requires that „The data relayed to the audio device must come either directly from the data sent to the printer or directly from the paper record copy.š However, the audio stream used by the AVC Edge with the VeriVote comes directly from the DRE and is the same data stream used during the rest of the audio voting. Therefore, under this configuration, voters using the audio function would still be dependant on federal, state and local testing to verify whether their vote was recorded accurately.

"... The Voting Systems and Procedures Panel would have to modify the standards or grant an exemption on these items prior to a staff recommendation that the system be certified."

There are two shocking issues here. First, and most important, the Secretary of State‚s Elections Division clearly found that because the audio feed for blind voters does not come from the printer, or directly from the feed to the printer, blind voters do not have the same opportunity to verify their votes as do sighted voters. This is a clear violation of HAVA and does not meet the requirements stated in the Department of Justice finding. How did this printer get qualified by NASED if it violates the law? Simple. The vvpat capabilities weren't tested against any vvpat standards.

Second, and nearly as important, within one week the California Election Division did exactly what they suggested they might. They modified their standards and certified the Sequoia VeriVote printer. Essentially they turned their backs on federal law in order to allow Sequoia to sell its system in the state.

Presently a committee chartered and sponsored by the EAC and under the auspices of NIST is finalizing a new set of federal guidelines that will include standards for a vvpat printer. We should not expect that these new standards will be any more comprehensive or stringent than the 1990 and 2002 standards. In fact the vendors have had a hand in writing those standards.

What is clear is that the testing and certification system is set up in the interest of the vendors, and the public interest takes a backseat. It is even to the point where federal and state governments are willing to allow the vendors to violate the law just so they can sell their wares. The Sequoia VeriVote printer system is clearly in violation of the law and should not be used until the source of the audio ballot-verification is taken from the printer itself.

Instead of forcing the vendor to make a good product, those who are supposed to be ensuring the public interest, are turning their backs on the public. The vendors are being allowed to sell voting systems that clearly do not meet the law and they are being allowed to do this by all of those who are supposed to be ensuring that the public interest is protected -- the ITAs, NASED, the EAC, and the state.

John Gideon is the Information Manager for VoteTrustUSA and for VotersUnite.Org.


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