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(DV) Gideon: Voting Machine Rulemakers Poised to Violate Their Public Interest Mandate







Is the NIST Technical Guidelines Development Committee Working for You, the Voter?: Voting Machine Rulemakers Poised to Violate Their Public Interest Mandate
by John Gideon
May 5, 2005

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Should the makers of voting machines set the standards that their voting machines must live up to in order to satisfy the public interest? Though the answer is obviously “No”, a recent meeting of a technical subcommittee of the Election Assistance Commission shows that this is happening, yet the EAC may reveal these new standards, on or about July 1, coupled with a claim that they adequately protect the heart of democracy.

By way of background, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) was chartered by the Elections Assistance Commission to provide updated standards against which all voting machines will be tested in order to be qualified for use. Presently voting technology is qualified to standards that were written in 1990 or 2002. The charter instructs NIST to form a committee to be called the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC). This committee is to operate with guidance from the EAC charter and with funding coming from the EAC.

The TGDC has been holding public meetings as they go through the suggested standards they have developed for qualifying all voting systems. They are modifying or deleting suggested standards in order to have a finished product that will set the standards for the industry.

Among the guidelines laid out for this committee by the EAC charter is a requirement, in law, that the committee operate in the public interest. The seventh of the "Administrative Provisions" shows a concern by the EAC that there be no conflict of interest in the decision makers.

Given the “protections” against conflicts of interest and in favor of the public interest, we might expect good things to come out of the committee. However, reports from witnesses to the April 20/21 meeting of the TGDC are quite troubling. During discussions of voter verified paper audit trail requirements, Dr. Brit Williams, a member of the committee, stated that he opposes any new standards that would make technology already purchased non-compliant. Paul Craft, another member of the committee, then suggested that they hear from the vendor engineers who were in the audience to see what they would do about the proposed standards. At this point, Dr. Semerjian, the chairman of the committee and the Director of NIST, said that the TGDC is not in existence to approve existing voting systems, nor rubber stamp state decisions. The committee then went on a break.

Upon return from the break Paul Craft announced that he had talked to the vendors and that they did not like some of the standards. A vote was then held and those standards were deleted.

It is clear that the EAC charter is not being followed in that conflicts of interest are dictating the workings of this committee. It appears that this committee is not operating in the public interest, but in the interest of the vendors by dropping (and likely adding) items to achieve industry objectives.

It must be pointed out that Dr. Brit Williams and Paul Craft both have individual conflicts of interest. Dr. Williams has been an outspoken defender of DRE voting systems and has worked closely with Diebold as the company’s ally in Georgia. Dr. Williams was one of the architects of the voting system presently being used in Georgia. Can he be expected to approve standards that are counter to decisions that he has made in regards to the Georgia voting system?

As an official in the Florida Secretary of State’s office, Mr. Craft is a defender of DRE voting systems. He, like Dr. Williams, is constantly called on to defend the voting machines used in some Florida counties. Can he be expected to turn his back on decisions he has already supported in Florida?

Those who have conflicts of interest usually say they can still maintain objectivity, but the rules on conflicts of interest put no weight on those kinds of self-serving statements. It is apparent that, in appointing Dr. Williams and Mr. Craft to the committee, NASED "stacked the deck" with pro-industry partisans.

The committee's proceedings on April 20/21 reveal that the standards established by this committee will be heavily favorable to the voting machine industry and not necessarily what is in the public interest. What this committee is doing is tantamount to the federal government allowing the baby crib industry to write their own safety standards for cribs. If that had been done, poorly designed cribs would still be causing the deaths of thousands of babies every year.

How many times does democracy have to suffer before these committees learn that for democracy to thrive, they must follow the public interest; and the public’s interest alone?

(Author’s Note: This article was sent to both NIST and the EAC asking for their comments prior to release. Both organizations were given three days to respond and neither chose to accept the invitation.)

John Gideon is the Information Manager for VotersUnite.Org and VoteTrustUSA. VotersUnite! is a national non-partisan organization dedicated to fair and accurate elections. It focuses on distributing well-researched information to elections officials, elected officials, the media, and the public; as well as providing activists with information they need to work toward transparent elections in their communities. John can be reached at: