Comment on new voting system guidelines online

The Election Assistance Commission has opened the first of two planned comment periods on a major revision of its Voluntary Voting System Guidelines with the launch of an online tool for posting comments.

The guidelines were developed by EAC's Technical Guidelines Development Committee. The first public draft was completed in August. The commission described the new guidelines as a complete rewrite of the standards adopted in 2005 intended to address the next generation of voting systems.

The guidelines provide a set of specifications and requirements against which voting systems can be tested to determine if they provide all the basic functionality, accessibility and security capabilities required of voting systems. They apply to any type of voting system but have received increased attention lately because of questions about the security and reliability of electronic touch-screen systems being used by many states. The new draft prohibits wireless connections on electronic voting systems, addresses software independence and contains updated requirements for a voter-verifiable paper audit trail on electronic systems.

Although voluntary, the guidelines have been used by most states for certifying voting systems. The commission also accredits test labs to certify the systems based on the recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program.

The current comment period is the first of two 120-day windows for submitting comments. The commission will consider comments in revising the current draft, and the revision will be released for a second comment period. The commission also will hold public hearings on the drafts during both comment periods.

The final version of the guidelines will be adopted by vote of the commission at a public meeting and published in the Federal Register. Because of the lengthy comment periods, it is not likely that the new version will be available for the 2008 general elections.

The Election Assistance Commission was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 as a response to balloting problems in the contested 2000 presidential election. It took over responsibility for certification standards, which previously had been developed by the Federal Election Commission and administered by state election officials.

In addition to submitting comments online, the public can also mail comments to the EAC at 1225 New York Avenue NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC, 20005. All comments, both electronic and mailed, will be posted on the EAC Web site. The current version of the guidelines generated 6,000 comments when released for review in 2005.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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