Plug, Play and Vote? New Functional Approach to Voting Technology Could Change Market

[Image via lifewire]

This week the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, a body created by the Help America Vote Act to coordinate the development of voting system standards nationwide, met in Washington, DC to discuss progress on the next version of the standards. The meeting heard many presentations – including one on the designation of elections as critical infrastructure, which I’ll cover in a future post – but I was particularly struck by a key theme that emerged from this week’s sessions” a functional approach to voting systems.

Currently, voting system standards (and related testing) focus on the physical equipment itself with special emphasis on the type of machine being examined. In this environment, the inquiry is largely driven by the type of equipment at issue, with different inquiries as a result. What the TGDC is proposing to do is step back from this approach and switch to one based on the functionality of voting equipment – in other words, focus less on what voting equipment is and more on what it does.

This new approach, if successful, could see the voting technology market follow a path that mirrors that of the personal computer market. Those of you old enough to remember the early days will recall that buying a computer meant buying the entire thing from that manufacturer: monitor, CPU, keyboard, mouse and even the printer. Over time, however, development of Universal Serial Bus (USB) technology allowed all these different components to share a common connection without requiring them to be made by the same company. This “plug and play” approach revolutionized the market, allowing manufacturers to compete on the price, performance and quality of individual components and giving consumers the choice to mix and match to find their ideal system. [Indeed, this blog post is being written on a computer with components from three different companies – and if I were to print it I’d be using a fourth.]

A functional approach, properly implemented, could similarly change the voting tech market. Rather than wait to build a suite of products that can navigate the testing and certification process, manufacturers could focus on standalone pieces that would address specific functions – and allow those components to meet narrower functional-based testing. Election officials could focus on buying those components they need at any given moment, spending their (scarce) upgrade funds on those functions which they deem the most important. Just as a computer buyer shops for a larger monitor or a faster printer, election officials could look for specific components that speed voter check-in, report totals faster or allow for more robust post-election auditing. Moreover, by spending less more frequently, election officials could avoid the sticker shock that accompanies the purchase of entirely new systems.

There is still a ways to go on what I’d call the “plug, play and vote” functional approach – but it’s really encouraging to see the field move this way. Kudos to the TGDC and its key players, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the EAC, for investing the time and effort to make this change a reality.

Stay tuned …

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