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US issues revised e-voting standards

Stringent recommendations for testing

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) delivered an update on Monday to the United States' electronic voting standards, adding more requirements to test systems for accuracy and reliability and additional rules to make paper audit trails easier to review.

The draft revision, known as the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) version 1.1, adds more stringent recommendations for testing and auditing as well as requirements that election software and updates be digitally signed and improved ease-of-use for poll workers. The US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) announced on Monday that the draft revision will be available for public comment for the next 120 days.

"The guidelines announced today are designed to further improve the quality and efficiency of the testing conducted on voting systems," John Wack, NIST voting team manager, said in a statement. "This enables improvements to be made sooner rather than later when the next full set of standards is finalized."

Election systems have come under scrutiny following errors that have led to lost votes and software glitches that have shutdown machines on voting day. In 2007, an election system failure may have resulted in a loss for the Democratic challenger in a contest for one of Florida's seats in the US House of Representatives, when the configuration of the electronic ballot likely resulted in a large number of people in a Democratic-leaning county failing to vote. In midterm elections the prior year, many states took extra security precautions after researchers found that Diebold's election systems contained a serious flaw.

States rushed to adopt electronic voting machines following the close election in 2000, which saw hanging chads and a Supreme Court challenge to the result. Yet, while some voting-machine makers pushed touchscreen machines that had almost no checks on the integrity of the systems, computer-security experts have called for voter-verifiable and machine-independent methods of recounting the vote. A major issue with most electronic voting machines is that there is no way to do a software-independent audit of the election results.

The EAC established the first version of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines in 2005. More than 1,000 comments were submitted to the initial version of the guidelines.

This article originally appeared in SecurityFocus.

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