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E-vote systems certifier de-certified

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The leading certifier of US electronic voting systems, Colorado outfit Ciber, Inc., is no longer permitted to issue certifications, after federal investigators discovered appallingly haphazard testing regimes, the New York Times reports.

Ciber, which certifies the majority of US election devices, was unable to document how it supposedly tested the machines for accuracy and security. Due to the oddities of US elections regulations, no government agency is assigned this role; rather, device manufacturers pay whoever they wish to rubber-stamp their kit.

The US federal Election Assistance Commission began oversight only in July 2006, and immediately found problems with Ciber's records, but did not act until recently, presumably in fear that the November election results would be brought into question. Ciber has been barred from issuing certifications until it can demonstrate proper quality controls and documentation of its "work".

The company says it's on the mend, however, and assures investors that it will win federal accreditation this month. Voters may be less optimistic. While Ciber may not be allowed to certify machines until the Commission is satisfied with its recordkeeping, nothing is yet being done to re-examine the machines it "passed" without adequate controls.

And nothing is being done to bring transparency to the business of voting machine testing and certification, although this is perhaps the most important element of any trustworthy scheme. A good model can be found in the Nevada Gaming Commission, which investigates even the smallest complaints with Las Vegas's electronic slot machines (among many other things). If these machines were certified by anyone the makers wished to hire, the public would soon mobilise in protest, and casinos would lose significant revenue from their most blatant mechanisms of mass theft.

And yet there is no popular outcry against the lack of accountability and transparency in the e-voting racket. It's interesting to note that the public is clearly less concerned with the integrity of its election equipment than it is with a one-armed bandit in a Vegas hotel. ®

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