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EAC Releases Voting Guidelines

The Election Assistance Commission released its Voluntary Voting System Guidelines late last week to help states meet mandatory requirements Congress laid out in the 2002 Help America Vote Act.

The proposed guidelines update and augment standards the EAC laid out three years ago and address the evolving technologies offered by manufacturers of voting machines and HAVA’s expectations about how states are to administer elections.

The EAC proposes that the guidelines go into effect in late 2007, a two-year timetable to give states adequate time to come up with their own plans to implement them. This week begins a 90-day comment period, after which the commission will vote whether to institute the recommendations. The vote is set to take place in October.

The stated purpose of the guidelines is to provide a set of specifications against which states can judge voting systems to determine if they provide the necessary security features, functionality and accessibility required by HAVA.

The release of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines is actually the third iteration of national voting standards. In 1990, the Federal Election Commission published performance and test standards for various voting systems. The technologies have since evolved, and many states are now hurrying to determine which new equipment best meets HAVA’s standards.

But equipment standards, while arguably the most discussed of HAVA’s reforms, are far from the only requirements Congress imposed on the states following widespread irregularities in the 2000 election.

HAVA set out uniform and non-discretionary administrative requirements, including provisional voting, voting information, statewide voter registration lists and identification requirements for first-time registrants, as well as administrative complaint procedures.

The guidelines proposed by the EAC set standards for all of those requirements, as well as a set of optional standards for states that use electronic voting machines and have decided to require paper trails.

While entirely optional, the guidelines outlined by the EAC aim to fulfill the agency’s core function, which is to assist the states in complying with HAVA and provide funding for election reform.

To that end, the EAC, through its Technical Guidelines Development Committee, doled out $3 million to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to help develop these guidelines. That funding represented the first time the federal government had spent a significant sum of money on setting guidelines for voting systems.

To that end, the EAC is also charged with certifying voting systems, and the just-released guidelines outline details of the testing process, which is performed by independent test labs accredited by the EAC.

The new EAC certification process for voting systems will go into effect this year and replaces the qualification process that has been conducted by the National Association of State Election Directors since 1994. The certification process is used primarily by vendors and election officials to certify and procure voting systems. Currently, at least 36 states require vendors to nationally certify their systems.

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