E-Voting Issues Heat Up In DC This Week

Washington D.C. hosts two major voting-policy events this week. First, the Carter/Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform kicked-off its first hearing yesterday, part of a six month effort to study the 2004 elections and make recommendations to policymakers. The Commission is led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker and is similar to a commission President Carter and President Gerald Ford formed in 2000.

The hearing focused on a number of subjects, with one panel specifically on voting technology and election administration. USACM member David Dill testified on this panel. He argued that transparency is the most important factor for ensuring our elections are fair and widely accepted by the public, and that the growing use of paperless electronic voting systems is undermining this goal. He specifically advocated ACM’s position noting it was one of those rare cases where a vast majority of computer scientists could find common ground. (ACM’s polled its members and found 95 percent supported its statement on voting).

While Dr. Dill defended this position, he was in the minority on the panel. Jim Dickson, with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Ron Thornburgh, Secretary of State in Kansas, both opposed voter-verified paper ballots saying they would be unfair to the disabled. Mr. Thornburgh, who was also testifying on behalf of the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), reiterated several times that, the “Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was working” and “Congress should not pass new restrictions on technology.” Considering NASED’s weight on this issue it looks highly unlikely that Congress will reopen HAVA anytime soon. (For background, HAVA is the major election reform legislation Congress passed in the wake of the 2000 Presidential Election controversy.)

At the second, but unrelated, event on Wednesday and Thursday the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will give its technical advisory committee the first draft guidelines of the long-awaited technical standards for voting equipment and systems. The two standards are posted on NIST’s website (here and here), but they are not yet approved by the technical committee. Once the committee approves the guidelines, they will go to the Election Assistance Commission for approval.

We haven’t reviewed the guidelines yet, but we’ll update the blog as appropriate after the advisory committee meeting.

Update : David posted a quick review of the technical advisory committee’s debate on the guidelines.

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