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National Issues

The EAC's Proposed Testing and Certification Program – Still a Chance for Bold Action? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
October 23, 2006

The broader community of public interest organizations concerned about the accuracy and integrity of the election process welcomed the announcement in July 2006, that the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) would be proposing a new national system for testing and certifying voting systems for use in Federal elections. The proposed program released for public comment earlier this month reflects some significant improvements over the existing process. However, the overall philosophy expressed in the proposed testing and certification program remains too deferential to the interests of voting equipment manufacturers while inadequately reflecting the interests of the primary stakeholders in the election process – the voters. On the fundamental questions of transparency and public oversight, it is substantially a perpetuation of the current system with new acronyms.


The current system in which voting machine manufacturers contract with ‘independent’ testing laboratories that produce secret test reports that inevitably lead to ‘qualification’ by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), has met with mixed reviews at best. Speaking before Congress in 2004, Carnegie Mellon Computer Science professor Michael I. Shamos said, "the system we have for testing and certifying voting equipment in this country is not only broken, it is virtually nonexistent." He recommended that "It must be re-created from scratch or we will never restore public confidence in elections." 


Sadly, the EAC may be missing an opportunity to do just that. 


Among Dr. Shamos’ first recommendations was that the manufacturers should not pay the laboratories that test their equipment, because under this arrangement the manufacturers effectively become the laboratories’ clients and subject to conflicts of interest that raise questions about their ability to effectively safeguard the public interest.

The credibility of the current process has been further damaged by the severe reliability, security, and accuracy problems revealed in a steady stream of academic and governmental studies and in hundreds of cases of malfunctions in fielded machinery.  While we will never know what defects have been uncovered by the current ITA, we know that the ITA did not uncover the vulnerability caused by the presence of interpreted code on Diebold AccuVote OS memory cards revealed in Leon County, Florida, the “upgrade” feature of AccuVote TSx revealed in Emery County, Utah and the viral propagation properties of this feature exploited in the recent Princeton study; the report by Paul Craft that the firmware version on ES&S optical scanners is not verifiable, nor the revelation in an audit in Pinellas County, Florida that an SQL compiler is routinely installed on the Sequoia WinEDS system.  

The failure of current narrow functional testing delegated to the ‘official’ testing laboratories indicates that the EAC needs to expand the examination and testing of voting machinery and sponsor examination and testing by academics and other interested parties. Rather than merely the testing required for certification, additional voting system testing could serve to improve and refine the subsequent versions of the voting system standards.

The current crisis of confidence in the electoral process demands bold actions from the EAC - bold actions that Congress mandated the EAC to take. Without any legislative changes to current statutes, the Election Assistance Commission can take significant steps toward restoring confidence in the election process by requiring manufacturers to make their systems transparent; by requiring testing laboratories to make their methods, work and results transparent; and by opening the testing effort to truly independent. The EAC should seize this opportunity promote transparency and public oversight of the way votes are cast and counted in the United States.
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