EAC Talks

I am sitting in the Standards Board and the Board of Advisors lunch and decided to blog the speeches. Here are summaries of the EAC commission member talks that occurred over lunch.

Paul DeGregorio Comments

Commissioner DeGregorio noted the key issues that have happened during the EAC’s recent history. He noted that since the last Standards Board and the Board of Advisors meetings, all appropriated HAVA funds have been distributed to the states, and they have hired an inspector general. The IG is working with states to help them with the accounting of HAVA funds. The Voluntary Voting System Guidelines are complete and are active and the certification process for voting systems is the EAC’s highest priority right now for 2006 and they are working to develop the best program possible as they take over. The EAC has provided assistance and guidance to states on the implementation of state voter registration databases and in disability access. The EAC also has several ongoing research projects and also has issued several reports. For example, they issued the 2004 Election Day Survey report, the 2004 UOCAVA survey, and the 2005 EAC annual report.

An estimated one-third of voters will use new voting machines in 2006. Visited Chicago and watched the transitioned to the mixed system and it was a very difficult process there and in the surrounding counties. Visited Carteriet County, NC and as the polls opened, the chief election official noted that there was a problem; there were 44 votes on the machine.

As it turned out, election officials had failed to zero out the logic and accuracy test data and do a zero print out. This happened in four of the 34 precincts in the county. The other counties did not have similar problems but once again it reminded people that every detail matters, especially when you transition to a new voting system. In Allegany County, PA, everyone thought there would potentially be a meltdown, but everything worked great and they had official results five hours after the election. Finally, he noted that he watched Katrina voters cast early voting ballots in Louisiana.

Paul closed by noting that local and state election officials need to allow international observers to come and observe. The U.S. is party to conventions that promote international observation and we need to facilitate this at the state and local level.

Ray Martinez

He has been honored to serve with all of the EAC members. The chairman’s synopsis shows the progress in elections over the past 23 months. There are both positive and negative views of the EAC and the role they can play in facilitating improvement state and local elections. The Standards Board and Advisory Committee are key players in providing advice and guidance to the EAC on a daily basis. This is especially true of the executive committee members. This dialogue helps to make the EAC a valuable player in elections, because they have good relations and interactions with key stakeholders. He will miss his role in the EAC. There needs to be a dialogue on what the next phase should be in the role of the EAC in elections as the EAC has completed its basic roles under HAVA that centered on providing funding to states. Having a clear discussion with stakeholders in Congress, with election officials, and with the academic community about this future role should begin so the EAC can move forward.

Gracia Hilman

The key question at the start of the EAC was what it would feel like to be in 2006. She thinks history will be kind to the EAC and its roles in elections. They were asked through HAVA to fix a problem AND to pave the way for better elections into the future. The solutions to fix immediate problems do not necessarily set the best framework for a long-term solution. We need to work to balance these and the public needs to know the resource and treasure that are election officials in states and localities. Voting is the single most important thing and who enables this: election officials. Through the process and dialogue of experience, we can see past the negative and we will see what it takes to preserve democracy. Congress, legislatures, county commissions make this job difficult by changing things every year.

HAVA made significant changes to elections, the most since the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Getting to know election officials and spending time seeing the US through the experiences of election officials is very much appreciated.

Donnetta Davidson

She introduced members of the Technical Guidelines Development Committee. NIST and the EAC both appreciate the input and guidance they receive from the members. She then turned the meeting over to a representative of NIST, John Wack. John noted that he very much enjoys learning from election officials. Elections are a mix of technology, sociology, and politics and everything that can happen will happen. Everyone involved in it seems to be dedicated to it.

He stated that NIST is to assist the EAC to develop standards for electronic voting equipment. NIST did a briefing last year in Denver and developed a public review process and they came out in December. There are many issues in voting and some were not completely addressed. It would be great if we had near-term solutions for this. NIST is structured in three groups: Human Factors, Testing, and Security. They are doing more to reach out to vendors because they are not represented in the process formally.

There is a 2007 version of the standards that is being developed. Each requirement in 2007 will be linked to a specific test that can be conducted. The standards will be written to resemble an IEEE standard, but with a clear effort to make the writing clear and usable for public readers. There is a final tradeoff between security, usability, and system cost. Systems have to be affordable but also secure and usable. They are also doing assessments of potential test labs for voting systems. The EAC will receive recommendations from NIST about potential labs that could do voting system testing.

The VVPAT work has been interesting and frustrating. The systems were developed pre-standards and had to write requirements after the fact. They key issue is usability of the VVPAT. The voter has to be able to use it AND it has to be usable for auditing the election post-election. NIST has done work on addressing both of these issues. The current standards for using VVPAT with DREs and it occurred to NIST that you could broaden the requirement. For example, an electronic ballot marking device that is scanned by an optical scanner could also be a VVPAT and NIST is trying to be sensitive to not being technologically limited to the DRE plus printer model.

The TGDC holds several teleconferences for their work and they now plan to do more outreach. He closed by asking for help. In talking with the EAC, he would like to get better feedback in order to make more rapid progress. He would like the Standards Board and Advisory Committee’s to create a committee to work with NIST to ensure its work is real and accurate.