Certification of Voting Machines: Little Reassurance to Voters

120px-Ecounting-scanning3.jpgElection officials try to alleviate voters’ concerns about the reliability of e-voting machines with the following refrain: labs ran our machines through rigorous testing and certified them as reliable and safe. But, of course, those officials fail to explain that many of the e-voting machines in use today were certified by labs whose credibility has been seriously called into question. The Election Assistance Commission has just suspended SysTest Labs, a company that tested and certified voting machines since 2001, due to their “failure to conform to procedures and requirements set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.” According to the EAC, SysTest failed to create and validate testing methods, maintain proper documentation of its testing, and employ properly trained or qualified personnel. The key question is really: if all of that is true, what did the testing lab do at all?

To add to voters’ worries, another lab involved in testing today’s e-voting equipment, CIBER, similarly faced suspension by the EAC in January 2007 due to its lax oversight of vendors’ e-voting systems. And even long before CIBER’s suspension, it was roundly criticized for its security and reliability problems. (CIBER appears to be back in the testing game, along with three other companies).

All of this suggests that the certification of these machines should give us little comfort–two of the four testing labs that certified the software running our voting machines were less than reliable. Moreover, as for all of the e-voting machines that we will use on Tuesday, vendors paid for the testing labs’ services and the certification reports were never released to the public, raising concerns about the lack of impartiality of all of the testing labs.

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