The Facts About Voting System Test Labs

Posted January 24, 2007 at 6:52pm

Authors Aaron Burstein and Joseph Lorenzo Hall were right to delve into the crucial elements of transparency and security in the testing of voting systems used in the United States in their Jan. 22 Guest Observer (“Unlike Ballots, EAC Shouldn’t Be Secretive”). There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than the integrity of our electoral process. They were wrong, however, about some basic facts, and the upshot was a piece that distributed inaccurate information.

The main focus of the Guest Observer was a testing laboratory called Ciber that sought “interim” accreditation last summer but did not supply all necessary information. The Election Assistance Commission has requested more information and still is reviewing the Ciber application. The assertion that EAC “de-certified” Ciber is inaccurate and premature. Upon receipt of all documents necessary for the Ciber application, EAC will render a decision and will make test reports available on its Web site, www.eac.gov.

In the past, test laboratories were accredited by the National Association of State Election Directors, which is not a federal agency and did not receive any federal funds. NASED announced its intention to end its program last summer. Interim accreditation was set up before the 2006 elections to ensure there were no gaps in service of testing laboratories during the phase-in of EAC’s new accreditation program, which took effect this month.

EAC is tasked by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to accredit voting system test laboratories and certify voting equipment. HAVA instructs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to assist the EAC by providing recommendations to the EAC regarding laboratory accreditation. EAC will make the final decision to accredit laboratories based upon the information provided by NIST and the commission’s review of non-technical issues such as conflict-of-interest policies, organizational structure and record-keeping protocols.

Under the full accreditation program, EAC will make public its decisions regarding accreditation of testing labs. NIST, EAC’s partner in this effort, already has posted assessment reports and other information about the labs for which it has recommended accreditation based upon its thorough technical review and assessment (see www.vote.nist.gov). In addition, the guidelines that must be met by test laboratories and, separately, voting equipment are publicly available at www.eac.gov.

The authors also misconstrue the facts regarding voting system manufacturers’ ability to hire and choose their own test laboratories. It is not within EAC’s authority to collect money from voting system manufacturers to pay for the testing of voting systems (see the Miscellaneous Receipts Act). If Congress grants EAC statutory authority and funding to pay the labs directly, EAC will establish procedures to also make lab assignments.

We take great exception to the overall assertion about our disclosure policies. EAC’s Voting System Certification and Laboratory Accreditation Program and Voluntary Voting System Guidelines were both released for public comment. As a matter of fact, Ph.D. candidate and op-ed author Joseph Lorenzo Hall submitted several prescient comments. We routinely announce all public meetings, in which the issues of accreditation and certification were discussed in great detail in public settings. Public meeting testimony, related materials, meeting minutes and numerous Sunshine Act notices are available on our Web site.

EAC is guided by two “musts”: transparency and security. Transparency wins every time — except if it jeopardizes the security of the voting system and, thereby, the integrity of the vote. We will continue to seek input from the public, experts, academics and election officials, just as we always have. At the conclusion of a process or a commission decision, whether it is regarding test laboratory accreditation, voting system certification or research projects, EAC will continue to make its decisions public and will disclose all information the law allows.

Tom Wilkey is executive director of the Election Assistance Commission.