Flaws in the Election Assistance Commission

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently appointed Barbara Simons to the Election Assistance Commission’s Board of Advisors, the federal body that sets voting technology standards for states that volunteer to be bound by them. As noted e-voting expert and computer scientist Professor Ed Felten explains, Simons is an accomplished computer scientist who will provide badly needed expertise on voting technology to the 37-member board. Before Simons’s appointment, none of the four board seats allocated for “professionals in the field of science and technology” had been filled.

Although appointing Simons is an important step in the right direction, more e-voting experts and technologists must be appointed and now. The EAC’s board is knee-deep in public hearings about the newest version of the Voluntary Voting Standards Guidelines (VVSG). This version of the VVSG—a massive 600 page document—has received serious criticism for its prescription of numerous contested requirements for voting technology that arguably hinder experimentation. The critics’ argument makes a tremendous amount of sense as rapidly-changing technologies are often best guided by standards that can accommodate rapid change. Professor Felten suggests that 10% of the board ought to be reserved for technologists. Even more technologists would be better as a central function of the EAC is the enhance accuracy and security of voting technologies. The majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate who appoint the board members should be seriously considering appointing e-voting experts, such as Professors Felten, Dan Wallach, and Avi Rubin for board membership.

IImage by Joebeone, from Wikicommons, under a CC-BY-2.5 license

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1 Response

  1. Hi Danielle, a few comments:

    First, the Board of Advisers seems to have, at most, nebulous input into the VVSG development. Most of that was done by NIST and the TGDC (which arguably could use more technologist expertise as well).

    Second, you are slightly mixing up two strains of expert commentary on the VVSG. One strain (championed by the AEI/Brookings comment to the VVSG) argues that innovation should be the main value in reconciling some of the draft requirements and that the draft hinders innovation too much.

    Another strain (notable in our ACCURATE comments on the VVSG; Rubin and Wallach are the directors of ACCURATE) argues that the elements criticized by others as hindering innovation are exactly the kind of medicine needed to help shore up the sorry state of electronic voting. We explain how important these elements will be in ensuring quality election technologies but we also point out areas where we feel more drafting is needed (the innovation class and incident reporting and feedback).

    Finally, the image above was actually taken by me. I released it on Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Attribution license… I’d appreciate correcting the link above to read “Image by Joebeone, from Wikicommons, under a CC-BY-2.5 license”.