FEC Releases Voting Systems Standards

Information Management, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

FEC Releases Voting Systems Standards


The cornerstone of American democracy is the right to choose freely elected officials to public office. When the accuracy of voting equipment is called into question, as it was during the 2000 presidential elections, so is the entire U.S. election system. To restore faith in the election process, it behooves the federal government to take action.

An independent regulatory agency created in 1975 to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) spent three-years developing and revising Voting System Standards (VSS) to ensure the reliability of certified election equipment used in local, state and federal elections. The standards cover the functionality and testing of paper-based (i.e., punchcards) and electronic (i.e., touch screens or keyboards) systems as well as performance features such as vote tallying and audit trails. The primary goal of VSS is to provide a mechanism for state and local election officials to assure the public of the integrity of computer-based election systems and to provide a common set of requirements across all voting technologies.

"The main focus of the Federal Election Commission's project to develop standards for election equipment is to ensure that the U.S. voting process accurately reflects the wishes of the American people," explained Penelope Bonsall, director of the FEC Office of Election Administration. "These standards should preclude a recurrence of the problems associated with the 2000 presidential elections to the extent that voting equipment was the cause."

Draft VSS documents were released for public review and comment twice this year and were. published in their final form in late April. According to the FEC, the drafts generated significant interest from a variety of interests whose views are reflected in the final version.

Among the contributors to the document was Stephen Berger, chairman of the working group developing a "Standard for the Evaluation of Voting Equipment" (BSR/IEEE 1583-200x), which emanates from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), an ANSI member and ANSI-accredited standards developer. Berger and his group are credited with providing technical input for testing criteria and security.

"In our discussions with the FEC, it was decided that additional work should to be done to address usability and security issues; this is the focus of BSR/IEEE 1583," Berger said. He estimates that the standard is 18 months from completion, at which time its requirements and evaluation methods for election voting equipment could be incorporated into the VSS. …

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