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National Issues

Former EAC Chairman Soaries to Rolling Stone: Where are the Standards? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Howard Stanislevic, VoteTrustUSA   
June 08, 2006

As Robert F.Kennedy Jr.'s recap of the events in Ohio in 2004 gains readership and stimulates much needed debate, we find that Rolling Stone's National Affairs Daily has interviewed the Rev. DeForest Soaries (pictured at right), the Republican-nominated former Chairman of the Election Assistance Commission who resigned in frustration a year ago. So let's take a look at this other Rolling Stone election story.

What is most striking about Mr. Soaries is his candor. When asked if he were troubled by the 2004 presidential election, what was his response? In a nutshell, what troubles him most is the lack of standards. As far as this author and many others in the election integrity community are concerned, the reverend is preaching to the choir!

"Look at Ohio. Is a two-hour line appropriate or inappropriate? We don’t have an answer to that question. What we say is that democracy means that you have the right to vote without intimidation and undue burdens. But if you stand in line for six hours, technically, today there is no document, no standard, no law that says that that’s wrong. And the problem is this is six years after Florida 2000! What number of votes is an acceptable number to lose in any race? We don’t have a performance rate for machines. If we discovered that of 10,000 Diebold machines model XYZ, 1,000 break down during the day, is that acceptable or unacceptable? If it were a toaster we could tell you, it were a tire we could tell you. If a certain tire malfunctions a certain number of times then they have a recall."

But before we say "Amen", it should be pointed out that there actually are some standards, and the EAC is now responsible for creating them and even testing the machines to see that they meet those standards. One such standard is even codified in HAVA Section 301 - the 1 in 500,000 maximum allowable error rate from the 2002 Voting System Standards. The rest are pretty much voluntary as Mr. Soaries points out, but that's partially because the standards themselves say that the EAC can waive them and certify non-compliant voting systems. As far as 1,000 out of every 10,000 e-voting machines breaking down during an election day, well guess what: That's an EAC standard too. It's actually 1,000 in every 11,000 or 9.2%. The EAC could have actually done something about that - by setting a higher standard and a test procedure to back it up. That way, even though the states wouldn't have to comply, the equipment vendors would.

Now to be fair to Mr. Soaries these standards, or lack of them, were there before his arrival at the EAC, and they are still there long after his departure. The EAC had ample opportunity in 2005 to improve them, and over 6,000 public comments were sent to the EAC by Americans who take their elections seriously, suggesting how to do so. You can read them here. There have been some improvements since 2002, but oddly enough that 1-in-11 voting systems failure rate allowed on every election day has remained intact and there's still no requirement for any independent verification of e-voting system tallies. The EAC is still free to certify non-compliant systems too.

One can only wonder how these standards, such as they are, affect the availability of machines, the length of time voters have to wait at the polls, or whether their votes are actually counted as cast. The current EAC Chair might want to look into that before calling it quits, and Congress should too.
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