Saturday, May 29, 2004

Making Votes Count: Who Tests Voting Machines?

New York Times editorial, May 30, 2004


Whenever questions are raised about the reliability of electronic voting machines, election officials have a ready response: independent testing. There is nothing to worry about, they insist, because the software has been painstakingly reviewed by independent testing authorities to make sure it is accurate and honest, and then certified by state election officials. But this process is riddled with problems, including conflicts of interest and a disturbing lack of transparency.


...there is, to begin with, a stunning lack of transparency surrounding this process. Voters have a right to know how voting machine testing is done. Testing companies disagree, routinely denying government officials and the public basic information. Kevin Shelley, the California secretary of state, could not get two companies testing his state's machines to answer even basic questions. One of them, Wyle Laboratories, refused to tell us anything about how it tests, or about its testers' credentials. "We don't discuss our voting machine work," said Dan Reeder, a Wyle spokesman.

Although they are called independent, these labs are selected and paid by the voting machine companies, not by the government. They can come under enormous pressure to do reviews quickly, and not to find problems, which slow things down and create additional costs. Brian Phillips, president of SysTest Labs, one of three companies that review voting machines, conceded, "There's going to be the risk of a conflict of interest when you are being paid by the vendor that you are qualifying product for."


If independent testing were taken seriously, there would be an absolute bar on using untested and uncertified software. But when it is expedient, manufacturers and election officials toss aside the rules without telling the voters. In California, a state audit found that voters in 17 counties cast votes last fall on machines with uncertified software. When Georgia's new voting machines were not working weeks before the 2002 election, uncertified software that was not approved by any laboratory was added to every machine in the state.

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