First labs get federal OK to certify voting equipment

The Election Assistance Commission has accredited two laboratories to test voting equipment against federal standards.

The labs, iBeta Software Quality Assurance of Aurora, Colo., and SysTest Labs of Denver, are the first to pass muster under EAC's testing and certification program. They will evaluate equipment against the 2002 Voting System Standards and the 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines.

'For the first time, the federal government is in the business of testing and certifying voting equipment and software,' EAC chairwoman Donetta Davidson said in a written statement.

Although the Federal Election Commission has produced voluntary standards for voting systems since 1990, certification has until now been overseen by the National Association of State Election Directors, which did not receive federal funding. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 moved responsibility for standards and certification to the EAC, which produced its first set of guidelines in 2005.

The laboratories were evaluated under the National Institute of Standards and Technology's National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program. NIST recommended accreditation of the two labs last month. EAC voted Wednesday to approve them after evaluating nontechnical issues such as conflict-of-interest policies and organizational structure.

The system guidelines and participation in the certification program are voluntary, but EAC said that 39 states required NASED certification and are expected to require certification under the new program.

SysTest applied for accreditation in August 2005 and iBeta in February 2006. Four other labs have applied but had not completed the process in time for the first NIST cut in January.

Equipment manufacturers will select the lab to evaluate their products and pay for the service directly. EAC does not have authority to collect money from manufacturers to pay for the program. An EAC spokesperson said no products currently were in the pipeline for testing, but three companies have registered with EAC to submit systems:
  • Unisyn Voting Solutions, a division of International Lottery and Totalizator Inc., Vista, Calif.
  • Diebold Election Systems Inc., Allen, Texas
  • Dominion Voting Systems Corp., Toronto

Although the results of certification testing will be made public, the labs will not be able to make source code for voting systems publicly available under the Trade Secrets Act.

EAC will have a monitoring program that will include manufacturer site visits to ensure that systems used in the field are the same systems that have been certified. The commission's ultimate sanction would be decertification of a system, which could mean it would not be used in states that require the certification. The commission also will track problems reported in elections, but will not be able to conduct reviews of systems in the field without the invitation and permission of local election officials.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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