Commission paves way for transition to federal oversight of voting

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has adopted an initial plan for certifying voting machines used in federal elections that relies heavily on state-level expertise.

Because the federal National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) is not expected to be up and running for another 18 months, EAC will temporarily accredit independent testing labs already being used by state authorities. The interim program will help states meet a Jan. 1 deadline to begin federal accreditation of voting machines.

The certification plan is the first step in the transition of national elections to federal oversight. Responsibility for ensuring the fairness and accuracy of elections has resided with states and is carried out by the National Association of State Election Directors.

EAC was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 after the disputed 2000 presidential election. It was given responsibility for certifying and decertifying voting systems, including the controversial electronic voting machines.

Direct-recording machines, which typically consist of notebook or desktop PCs loaded with vote recording software, have come under intense criticism from experts who have challenged the systems' security and reliability.

Accrediting independent laboratories to conduct standardized testing is the first step in the certification process. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will recommend labs for NVLAP but is not expected to have its initial list ready until spring 2007. Until NVLAP is fully established, labs already approved by states will conduct federal testing.

EAC will develop technical data packages and test plans for the labs, and will contract with technical reviewers to review test results for certification. The commission also will provide a process to clarify and interpret standards for vendors, and to allow vendors to appeal negative results from labs and commission decisions.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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