USACM Comments on Senate E-Voting Legislation

By Cameron
October 17, 2007

With the House of Representatives e-voting reform legislation stalled, we’ve turned our attention to the Senate. Senator Feinstein (D-CA) is leading the effort to reform e-voting systems. USACM sent the Senator a detailed letter noting that her legislation largely gets the big things correct, but there are some important details that should be addressed. From the letter:

This legislation takes several steps to improve the transparency of the voting process. Two of them are particularly important: (1) voter-verified paper trails coupled with manual audits and (2) controlled review of the technology by independent experts. We are encouraged that the legislation contains these provisions, which are consistent with a policy position on e-voting ACM members overwhelming supported in 2004. However, we are concerned with some provisions of the legislation and make the following recommendations, based on our technical expertise:

  • Require the audits be random, mandatory, and manual or software independent (not reliant on the machine that produced the vote for the audit)
  • Ensure that best practices for auditing elections are followed by state and local officials
  • Expand the scope of the software review provisions to include all elements of the system and clarify reviewers’ responsibilities
  • Add more transparency to the emergency certification provisions
  • Charge the National Science Foundation with e-voting research
  • Provide further voter privacy protections

As with most things, the devil is in the details, and that is where USACM’s comments are focused. There is a lot of nuance and detail in USACM’s letter that is too long for a blog post, so I encourage you to read the supporting comments.

Senator Feinstein’s legislation is largely similar to what Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) proposes in the House, requiring voter-verified paper records that are secret, durable, and accessible. Her legislation also makes the paper record the official record for the election, and it reforms the testing and certification processes. Finally, it requires software review by outside experts, with some differences in the details that are significant. (You can find a side-by-side comparison of the disclosure sections here.)

One of the biggest departures from the House bill is with the deadlines for reform. The Senate legislation bans the purchase of machines that do not produce voter-verified paper records upon enactment of the bill and requires the usage of paper ballots by the 2010 election. Representative Holt, for the most part, stuck with a 2008 deadline. The Senator has indicated some willingness to make that deadline even more flexible.