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National Issues

A House of Voting Cards PDF  | Print |  Email
By Joseph Hall, Univeristy of California, Berkeley   
January 13, 2007

This article was posted at Not Quite a Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author. 


The New York Times revealed last week that one of the Independent Testing Laboratories (ITAs) that qualify voting systems for conformance to the federal voting systems standards, Ciber Laboratories, Inc., had been suspended from approving new machines. Apparently, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) suspended Ciber due to lax "quality-control procedures and [Ciber] could not document that it was conducting all the required tests." ("Citing Problems, U.S. Bars Lab From Testing Electronic Voting")


We'll have more to say in detail in the future about what this revelation means in terms of oversight of voting systems, and oversight of the EAC itself. However, a number of simple questions come to mind: Why was this development kept from the public? Why were machines that Ciber had erroneously approved allowed to be used without additional testing in last Fall's general elections? How many models of voting systems are we talking about here? How widely deployed are Ciber-tested voting systems in our elections environment?


Saving criticisms of secrecy for a different forum, the last few questions should be easily answered by figuring out which voting systems Ciber tested and looking at voting technology deployment statistics. However, since the test reports are not public, it is difficult to find information about who tested what when.


Under the old NASED-led regime—recall that there is a new federal voting system certification regime overseen by the EAC—an ITA would test a voting system and then submit a report to NASED. NASED's technical committee would review this report and issue a NASED Number if the voting system was found to be compliant with federal voting systems standards.


Why do I mention NASED numbers? Well, they look like this: N-1-16-22-22-001. That's not a simple serial number; those dashed fields hold information. I have seen a few different presentations where someone in NASED or the EAC explains what these numbers are, but I suppose I didn't take good enough notes, because I couldn't find them.


Today Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation sent email with exactly the notes I wanted ("What is in a NASED Number"). To make a long story short, the first number in a NASED number corresponds to the ITA that did the software testing (the software ITA is responsible for full-system testing). If a NASED number reads N-1- then it was tested by Ciber, if N-2- it was tested by Systest Laboratories.


With this key piece of information, we can use published lists of qualified voting systems to determine which models where qualified by Ciber. Here is the "NASED Qualified Voting Systems" list from March of 2006. Looking at this list, 41 out of 55 entries (75%) have N-1- at the beginning of their NASED number, indicating that Ciber was the software ITA. In fact, it is much more simple to list which systems were not qualified by Ciber.


Of course, what does this mean in terms of deployed systems? In detailed terms, it means any voting system that is not one of the following was qualified by Ciber:

  • AccuPoll,
  • Danaher (for their VSS 2002 qualified system),
  • Liberty Voting Systems/NEDAP, Populex,
  • One version of ES&S' voting system (N-2-02-22-22-004).

This population of systems that aren't cast in the shadow of the Ciber revelation, those qualified by Systest instead of Ciber, makes up a tiny part of deployed voting systems.


We can take it one step further. From the Election Data Services dataset in their "2006 Voting Equipment Survey", you can calculate what percentage of voting systems were certified by Ciber. What do the numbers say? They say that the voting systems used by 68.5% of registered voters (67.9% of precincts) in the 2006 election were qualified by Ciber. (Here is a spreadsheet of the EDS data that I used to calculate this in Open Document and Excel Formats: ODS, XLS.)


I suppose it would have been completely impractical to decertify all these systems. Even decertifying those systems in which the qualification testing Ciber performed was specifically lacking would likely be a significant double-digit percentage of voting systems used by registered voters (or precincts).

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