Vote count at mercy of clandestine testing
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (AP) -- The three companies that certify the nation's voting technologies operate in secrecy, and refuse to discuss flaws in the ATM-like machines to be used by nearly one in three voters in November.
Despite concerns over whether the so-called touchscreen machines can be trusted, the testing companies won't say publicly if they have encountered shoddy workmanship.
They say they are committed to secrecy in their contracts with the voting machines' makers -- even though tax money ultimately buys or leases the machines.
"I find it
grotesque that an organization charged with such a heavy responsibility feels
no obligation to explain to anyone what it is doing," Michael Shamos, a
Carnegie Mellon computer scientist and electronic voting expert, told lawmakers
The system for "testing and certifying voting equipment in this country is not only broken, but is virtually nonexistent," Shamos added.
Although up to 50 million Americans are expected to vote on touchscreen machines on November 2, federal regulators have virtually no oversight over testing of the technology. The certification process, in part because the voting machine companies pay for it, is described as obsolete by those charged with overseeing it.
firms -- CIBER and Wyle Laboratories in
Federal regulations specify that every voting system used must be validated by a tester. Yet it has taken more than a year to gain approval for some election software and hardware, leading some states to either do their own testing or order uncertified equipment.
That wouldn't be
such an issue if not for troubles with touchscreens, which were introduced
broadly in a bid to modernize voting technology after the 2000 presidential
election ballot-counting fiasco in
Failures involving touchscreens during voting this year in Georgia, Maryland and California and other states have prompted questions about the machines' susceptibility to tampering and software bugs.
Also in question
is their viability, given the lack of paper records, if recounts are needed in
what's shaping up to be a tightly contested presidential race. Paper records of
each vote were considered a vital component of the electronic machines used in
last week's referendum in
reliance on touchscreen machines want not just paper records -- only
"Four years after the last presidential election, very little has been done to assure the public of the accuracy and integrity of our voting systems," Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, told members of a House subcommittee in June at the same hearing at which Shamos testified.
"If there are any problems, we will spend years rebuilding the public's confidence in our voting systems," Udall said. "We need to squarely face the fact that there have been serious problems with voting equipment deployed across the country in the past two years."
Southworth, a voting equipment tester at the laboratory, said in a telephone
interview that he wouldn't publicly discuss the company's work. He referred
questions to a spokeswoman at CIBER headquarters in
CIBER Inc., a systems integration firm in Huntsville, Alabama, stays locked and entrance to the office is strictly controlled.
CIBER, founded in 1974, is a public company that promotes itself as an international systems integration consultant. Its government and private-sector clients include the Air Force, IBM and AT&T. In 2003, government work generated the largest percentage of the company's total revenue, 26 percent.
Also in a sprawl
of high-tech businesses that feed off Redstone Arsenal and NASA's
Dan Reeder refused to provide details on how the El Segundo, California-based
company, which has been vetting hardware for the space
industry since 1949 in
"Our work on election machines is off-limits," Reeder said. "We just don't discuss it." He did allow, though, that the testing includes "environmental simulation...shake, rattle and roll."
Carolyn Goggins, a spokeswoman for SysTest Labs, the only other federally approved election software and hardware tester, refused to discuss the company's work.
More than a decade ago, the Federal Election Commission authorized the National Association of State Election Directors to choose the independent testers.
On its Web site,
the association says the three testing outfits "have neither the staff nor
the time to explain the process to the public, the news media or
jurisdictions." It directs inquiries to a Houston-based nonprofit
directors' voting systems board chairman, former
He said that left election officials no choice but to find technology companies willing to pay.
"When we first started this program it took us over a year to find a company that was interested, then along came Wyle, then CIBER and then SysTest," Wilkey said of he standards developed over five years and adopted in 1990.
"Companies that do testing in this country have not flocked to the prospect of testing voting machines," said U.S. Election Assistance Commission chairman DeForest Soaries Jr., now the top federal overseer of voting technology.
A 2002 law, the Help America Vote Act, created the four-member, bipartisan headed by Soaries to oversee a change to easier and more secure voting.
Soaries said there should be more testers but the three firms are "doing a fine job with what they have to work with."
Wilkey, meanwhile, predicted "big changes" in the testing process after the November election.
But critics led
"Suppose you had a situation where ballots were handed to a private company that counted them behind a closed door and burned the results," said Dill, founder of VerifiedVoting.org. "Nobody but an idiot would accept a system like that. We've got something that is almost as bad with electronic voting."