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Is the Federal Process for Qualifying Voting Systems Broken? PDF  | Print |  Email
Contributed by By John Gideon, Information Manager, www.VotersUnite.Org and www.VoteTrustUSA.Org   
August 17, 2005
In the past month two separate incidents took place that call into question whether the present voting systems qualification process is functional and whether the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) knows what is going on around them.
 
The most recent incident, and probably the most troubling, is the sudden appearance on the Election Assistance Commission webpage of a document entitled, “Testing and Certification Process for Voting Systems”[1]. This undated and unsigned document is a testament to the EAC’s misunderstanding of what is happening on their watch.  This document talks about the history of the qualification/certification process, how the process functions, and what the future is for the process. It makes the following claim: "Today, voting systems are tested by ITAs (Independent Testing Authority) against the 2002 Voting System Standards” It is apparent that the authors of this document have never looked at the “NASED (National Association of State Elections Directors) Qualified Voting Systems” list.[2] If they had they would note that, as of this date, and since December 5, 2003, 34 voting systems have been qualified, 27 of which were qualified to standards written and accepted in 1990. So far this year there have been 8 voting systems qualified and only 4 of those have been qualified to the standards the EAC seems to think are the only standards in use.
 
But it’s not just the ITAs that are participating in this travesty. There is a buffer between the ITA and the final qualification of any voting system by NASED. As stated in the subject document, “After the ITA determines through testing that a voting system meets the 2002 VSS, the Technical Subcommittee of the NASED Voting System Board reviews the test report to validate ITA’s findings.” Why is this subcommittee, which is supposed to be reviewing the ITA documents, allowing voting systems to continue being qualified to the 1990 standards when the EAC clearly thinks that only the 2002 standards are being used?
 
The other recent incident sheds additional light on the sham that is called the “federal qualification process.” On July 29, 2005 the Secretary of State of California announced he was rejecting a request by Diebold Elections Systems Inc. (DESI) for state certification of their TSx Direct Recording Electronic voting system.[3] This report was followed on August 3, 2005 by another article[4] that amplified the information in the first article and told of an absurdly high failure rate in a mock-election held by the state.
 
California tested 96 voting machines in the mock-election over a seven-hour period and with over 10,000 votes cast. Close to 20% of the machines had failures including crashes, blue screens, and error messages, resulting in the need to reboot; and over 10% of the machines had their voter verified paper audit trail printers jam, which resulted in the loss of paper ballots for audits.
 
While the machines that failed the mock-election were not, at the time, completely through the process of federal qualification, they were reportedly approved by the ITAs. They only awaited a review of the paperwork by the Technical Subcommittee and the final stamp of approval by NASED, which controls the process with assistance and some oversight from the EAC. These machines are the first DRE voting system produced by DESI that has passed ITA testing to the 2002 Voting Systems Standards, the standards that the EAC thinks are the only standards being used.
 
The ITAs are supposed to be certified to do the testing; they are supposed to be performing rigorous testing to ensure any qualified voting system will operate with no problems; they are supposed to be testing systems to the highest standards available. Is seven hours of testing by the California Secretary of State, who is not a federally certified ITA, more rigorous than the testing conducted by the ITA? It is extremely bothersome if the reports are true and the ITA tested and approved this failed system. It also points to a complete failure of the qualification process and demands an answer as to whether any previously qualified voting system should be used without re-test and re-qualification.
 
It is obvious that the process of qualifying the Diebold TSx voting system that failed should have been stopped. The testing must be redone. However, before starting that testing, the ITAs need to be investigated to find out why they allowed the Diebold system to be qualified. The EAC must also publish a warning to all states who are considering the purchase and use of the failed Diebold TSx voting system. Mississippi, Utah, Ohio, and other states are lined-up to buy these machines even though they failed the simple, functional testing in California.
 
In defense of the ITA testing process, a person close to the federal process revealed that vendors, at times, put their “best” machines through the ITA process but sell something less robust at the state level. While this statement points the finger directly at the vendors and their internal quality assurance programs, it also points to further failures of the federal oversight process that endorses a tested product and then leaves the quality assurance of the field products solely in the hands of the vendors.
 
Diebold also manufactures and sells ATM machines. How long would they be in business if their ATM machines failed 20% of the time or if their receipt printers jammed 10% of the time? The banking industry would be up in arms. Why are those who are responsible for testing and qualifying our voting systems not saying or doing anything to rectify this unacceptable situation?
 
So we have federal commissioners who have no idea what standards are being used to test voting systems. We have a voting system qualification process that is so poorly managed it has allowed a severely flawed voting system to be given the NASED, and soon, the EAC, “Seal of Approval”. And we have no way of knowing whether the systems that are to be used in the field are even as “high” a quality as those that were tested and approved.
 
Clearly the federal qualification process is broken, and the states that rely on it to protect their citizens’ votes are trusting in smoke and mirrors.


[1] “Testing and Certification Process for Voting Systems”; http://www.eac.gov/docs/Testing%20and%20Certification%20Process.pdf

[2]
“Updated List of ITA Approved Systems from 12-03 to 7-05” National Association of State Elections Directors; http://www.nased.org/ITA%20Information/NASEDQualifiedVotingSystems12.03to7.05.pdf

 
[3] “E-voting machines rejected after state tests”, by Jennifer Coleman, Associated Press, 29 July 2005;

 
[4] “Initial report undersold e-vote snafus”, by Ian Hoffman, ANG Newspapers, 03 August 2005;
http://www.votersunite.org/article.asp?id=5818
 
 
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