E-voting experts put regs first

House Science Committee testimony

The federal government should not mandate uniform electronic voting systems, but it should improve the voluntary standards for those systems, a group of experts on voting systems told lawmakers Tuesday.

"The current system of regulation for voting machinery suffers from significant flaws," said Douglas Jones, associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa and chairman of the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems.

That doesn't mean that voting machines should all be immediately replaced, he said. "I cannot recommend large-scale funding for immediate modernization of voting systems across the country," he said. "To do so now would be to rush into the purchase of large numbers of systems that I hope will be found failing by standards we ought to have in place."

"I have identified numerous flaws inherent to the application of computer technology to the democratic process of elections," said Rebecca Mercuri, an assistant professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and president of Notable Software Inc., a computer consulting company. "Present and proposed computer-based solutions are not able to resolve — and in some cases even increase — the likelihood of vote-selling, coercion, monitoring, disenfranchisement and fraud in the election process."

Optical scanning devices, such as those used by most students during standardized tests, and electronic voting machines "are not what we would want" to mandate across the country, said Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of political sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project.

Specifically, all members of the panel said that it is still too early for Internet voting.

Lawmakers seemed to agree. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee, said that the federal government should not mandate a one-size-fits-all solution. But the federal government should develop robust technical standards for voting equipment manufacturers to meet, accredit labs around the country to certify that voting equipment meets those standards and conduct research on making the systems user-friendly, he said.

The committee is reviewing legislation that will give the National Institute of Standards and Technology a more prominent role in establishing standards for voting systems, he said.

The panel warned that security, privacy and auditability are significant concerns with many new systems.

Mercuri said specifically that voting systems should be required to meet the Computer Security Act of 1987. They are currently exempt. "This loophole must be changed," she said.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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