And Now For Something Completely Different: TGDC Approves VVSG 2.0

[Image via BBC]

[This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the vote was unanimous. Thanks to Monica Crane Childers for the suggestion.]

Yesterday was a really good day in the elections world – not because of anything that happened in Manchester, NH but because of what happened in a small conference room in suburban Washington, DC. There, the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) unanimously voted to approve an updated version 2.0 of the Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines (VVSG 2.0). Here’s the release from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission:

The next generation of Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG 2.0) that will guide the Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) testing and certification work was adopted today by the EAC’s Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC). The vote came during a two-day meeting called by the EAC and chaired by Kent Rochford, Acting Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
 
The next step is to share the guidelines with members of the EAC’s Board of Advisors and Standards Board, who will review and provide comments on the guidelines approved today. Following the board reviews, there will be a 90-day period for public comment on the guidelines.
 
“Today’s vote is a watershed moment in the effort to implement the next generation of standards used to test voting systems,” said EAC Chairman Matthew Masterson, who is the designated federal officer for the committee. “These new guidelines are designed to spur innovations that allow local election officials to give voters the best experience possible. The standards will ensure improved accessibility, security, accuracy and auditability of voting systems.”
 
VVSG are a set of specifications and requirements against which voting systems can be tested to determine if the systems meet required standards. Some factors examined under these tests include functionality, accessibility, accuracy, auditability and security capabilities. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandates that EAC develop and maintain these requirements as well as testing and certifying voting systems. On December 13, 2005, the EAC unanimously adopted the 2005 VVSG, which significantly increased security requirements for voting systems and expanded access, including opportunities for individuals with disabilities to vote privately and independently. The 2005 guidelines updated and augmented the 2002 Voting System Standards, as required by HAVA, to address advancements in election practices and computer technologies. These guidelines were again updated by the EAC’s Commissioners on March 31, 2015. The new VVSG are slated to be complete by 2018. These guidelines are voluntary. States may decide to adopt them entirely or in part prior to the effective date. 
 
The structure of the new VVSG reflects modifications proposed by the election community, EAC, NIST and the TGDC, which is comprised of election officials, voting system manufacturers, disability experts, cyber security experts, technology experts, and other key election stakeholders. The new guidelines are a nimble high level set of principles that will be supplemented by accompanying documents that detail specific requirements for how systems can meet the new guidelines and obtain certification. The supplemental documents will also detail assertions for how the accredited test laboratories will validate that the system complies with those requirements.
 
The new VVSG structure is anticipated to be:

  • Principles:    High level system design goals;
  • Guidelines:   Broad description of the functions that make up a voting system;
  • Requirements:   Technical details necessary for manufacturers to design devices that meet the principles and guidelines of a voting system;
  • Test Assertions:    Technical specifications required for laboratories to test a voting system against the requirements. 

Another key development yesterday was the adoption of a resolution calling on the standards to more proactively balance the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)’s competing desires for security and accessibility for voters with disabilities:

[Image via Twitter user Joshua Franklin]

This balance has proven difficult as the growing push for paper ballots has met with resistance from advocates for voters with disabilities – but now the TGDC is on record directing voting technology manufacturers and the election community to make all systems work for all voters.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the TGDC’s actions, both as a substantive matter as well as evidence of what is possible in the field of elections when people come together to work on concrete issues as opposed to shouting at one another about imaginary ones. This is a huge development for the field that will pay positive dividends for the entire election community for years to come.

Kudos to the TGDC and its members for all their work on VVSG2.0; I look forward to seeing what’s next as the standards move closer to final adoption. Stay tuned!

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