Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New GAO report provides critical analysis of e-voting and federal oversight

Last Friday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on electronic voting. The report is appropriately titled, "Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems Are Under Way, but Key Activities Need to Be Completed". It includes a thorough review of the how the federal government, and particularly the Election Assistance Commission, have failed to meet the voting security goals outlined in the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Reaction to the report is featured in a PC World article by Grant Gross. Excerpts from Ian Hoffman's ANG Newspapers article are featured below.


E-voting failures in elections have been a problem in California, and the state's experiences are mentioned several times in the latest report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Analysts for the GAO found that crucial vote-recording and tallying files could be altered, that voting software often had weak or nonexistent password protections and that manufacturers had installed unapproved software in several places, including California.

Yet fixing those problems could be years away.

The GAO called on e-voting manufacturers to design these instruments of democracy with security in mind, and to devise better paper trails so the public and elections officials can verify accuracy of their machines without sacrificing voter privacy. All levels of government, the GAO concluded, need stronger rules and testing for electronic-voting systems.

But few of those things are likely to happen until after the 2006 elections and some not until after most states have held the 2008 presidential primary.

In response to outcry over the 2000 elections, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002, providing money for modernizing voting systems nationwide. The law also created the Election Assistance Commission, and among other things tasked the tiny new agency with approving new standards for voting equipment, labs to test them and ultimately the voting machinery itself.

But Congress never granted a full appropriation to the election commission or to the National Institute for Standards and Technology, which was to provide technical help. As a result, the new standards for security, performance and accuracy of voting systems have been three years in the making and may not be applied to actual voting systems until 2007. New labs to test voting systems to the standards won't be approved until then, and meanwhile the existing laboratories may continue testing voting systems to older standards until June 2008.

"It's the first report to come out and say this job isn't happening the way it should be," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "It lays bare the inadequacies of federal oversight of our voting systems."

The GAO's report also marks the strongest federal statements to date favoring the use of multiple ballot records, such as paper trails, to make sure electronic-voting systems work properly and vote tallies are accurate.

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