First labs receive initial OK for voting system testing program

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has recommended that two Colorado laboratories be accredited to test voting systems against federal standards.

The labs, iBeta Software Quality Assurance of Aurora and SysTest Labs of Denver, are the first to make it through NIST’s National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program for evaluating voting machines. The Election Assistance Commission will make the final decision.

The federal standards, included the 2002 Voting System Standards and the 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, are voluntary, but the EAC expects that most states will participate in the certification program.

The National Association of State Election Directors until now has handled voting system certification, but the EAC was given responsibility for the program under the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The act was passed in response to voting problems in the disputed 2000 presidential election, following which many states began updating manual and mechanical voting systems. Although the certification program can be applied to any type of system, questions have been raised most prominently about the security and reliability of electronic systems, particularly direct-recording electronic voting machines that record and store votes without any paper ballot.

EAC said that 39 states have required certification under the state-run program, and it expects all will participate in the federal program.

HAVA requires NIST to evaluate testing labs and make recommendations for accreditation to EAC. NIST evaluated technical competence of the labs. EAC will make further evaluation of non-technical issues, such as conflict-of-interest policies, organizational structure and recordkeeping protocols, before voting on full accreditation.

SysTest applied for accreditation in August 2005 and iBeta in February 2006. Four other labs have applied but had not completed the process in time for the first cut, announced Jan. 18.

Both labs now use proprietary tests for federal certification, but NIST has been tasked to create a uniform set of open tests that will be used with the next version of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, due out this year.

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