NY Times Editorial: Testing the Testers

From: Arthur Keller <voting_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Mon Jan 08 2007 - 02:36:31 CST

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/08/opinion/08mon1.html?th&emc=th

EDITORIAL
Testing the Testers

Published: January 8, 2007
There is by now no doubt that there are serious problems with
electronic voting machines: they fail to record votes, and even flip
votes from one candidate to another. Election officials like to
defend the machines by noting that they have been certified by
independent testing labs. But the certification process has long been
deeply flawed, and last week there was even more disturbing news -
that the leading testing lab has been unable to meet the federal
government's standards.
Since last summer, Ciber Inc., the largest tester of voting machine
software, has been unable to meet federal quality standards that will
take effect later this year.
It is disturbing that if Christopher Drew had not reported this in
The Times, the public still would not know. The Election Assistance
Commission, the agency that evaluates the labs, did not reveal that
Ciber fell short, and is still not saying what is wrong. Ciber, which
is still working on meeting the standards, did not return our phone
call.
Many Americans are using electronic voting machines that were
certified by Ciber. Were those certifications done properly? Did
whatever deficiencies Ciber has now exist then? No one is saying.
Since many jurisdictions, and some whole states, now use electronic
voting machines that do not produce a paper record, certification is
extremely important. It is one of the few ways of determining whether
a machine wrongly records votes, either by accident or by design.
Even before the news about Ciber, certification was a troubled
process. The biggest problem is that the voting machine manufacturers
pay the labs to do the examination and certification. This is a
conflict of interest. If a lab raises too many concerns, it risks
losing a client to a more compliant competitor.
There is also too little transparency. The labs, which see themselves
as working for the voting machine companies, do not tell the public
when they find problems or what those problems are.
Congress should pass legislation fixing the system. The vendors
should continue to pay the costs, but the government should choose
and pay the labs. That would make the labs responsive to the correct
customer - the public.
It should also enact strong transparency rules. Voters should know
how testing is done, and have full and timely access to the results.
Congress should also require the Election Assistance Commission to be
more open about how it evaluates the labs. If a lab falls short, the
public - which may currently be using machines certified by that lab
- should be told right away what the deficiencies are.
The veil of secrecy that hangs over certification is good for the
companies that make voting machines and for the ones that test them.
The government should not be protecting those private interests.
It should be protecting the voting public.

-- 
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Received on Tue Jan 1 14:12:44 2008

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