Today the EAC features a guest blog from Katy Owens Hubler, Founder and Senior Policy Specialist at Democracy Research, and John Wack, Interoperability Working Group Chair.
A critical component of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) version 2.0, approved on September 12, 2017 by the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, was making election systems more nimble and able to exchange information. A key component of accomplishing that goal is the development of common data formats across election systems.
1. What is a common data format?
Data is at the core of all election systems, from the databases maintaining voter lists to electronic poll books used to verify voters, and devices used to tabulate votes to election night reporting systems. A common data format allows each of these systems to “speak the same language,” makes information sharing more streamlined and allows systems to work together, no matter who the manufacturer is.
2. Why is it important?
Having a common data format can increase speed, reduce cost, and provide consistency for the testing and certification process.
Without it, different systems (even those from the same manufacturer) export files that cannot be imported into another system without first being converted. This requires additional software, or even manual entry of one data set into another. Developing a common data format for wider election systems also has the following advantages:
Easier integration of new components, components from different vendors, or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components.
Transparency and auditability, by having all information in a format easily understood by the public.
3. What does it mean for election officials?
Having a common data set increases efficiency and saves money. Eliminating the step of exporting data from one system and importing it into another can save staff time, reduce errors and allow for more choices in vendors and what new components can be integrated into an election system.
Lori Augino, the Elections Director for the State of Washington, at the TGDC Meeting on September 12 also described these benefits:
Reduced risk – Fewer time election officials need to manually enter the same data and less human error.
Better compliance – Ability to comply with changes in state law, the EAC Election Administration & Voting Survey (EAVS) data, public request for information, etc.
Save money – Ability to purchase commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment.
More redundancy – Data stored in more than one place increases the capability of recovering from an emergency.
4. What is the plan for developing CDF?
Led by the EAC and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), public working groups have been meeting to hash out the ins and outs of common data formats. The working groups are made up of IT staff, election administrators from all over the country, election system manufacturers, advocates and interested parties from the private sector. There is an overarching Interoperability Working Group that meets biweekly, as well as subgroups on certain aspects of the process.
So far, the group has completed a version 1 of Election Results Reporting and several states have used it or plan to use it in the near future, including Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan and Virginia. Version 2 is in the works, based on feedback from those that have tried it, as well as groups such as Google that use the format to make pre-election information available and report election results. Common data formats on Election Event Logging, Voter Records Interchange and Cast Vote Records are nearing completion. The next common data formats to be tackled will be on ballot definitions and electronic poll books.
To make sure the common data formats are accurate and reflect the real-life experience of election offices, we need jurisdictions willing to try them out and give feedback. If your state is interested in participating, sign up at https://www.nist.gov/itl/voting/interoperability or contact the Interoperability Working Group Chair John Wack for more information.
5. Does it impact the security of election systems?
While not a security measure per se, common data formats assist in making election devices more transparent for users, test labs and the general public.
6. What does the future of election technology look like with a fully implemented common data format?
The end goal is for different election technologies to be able to work collaboratively with each other. Election officials would be able to purchase different systems from different manufacturers or sources and everything would work seamlessly together. With the hard work from the volunteers in the working groups and participation from more states, we’ll get there one day.
More questions? Check out this FAQ on common data format for elections.
Want to get involved? Additional information is at https://www.nist.gov/itl/voting/interoperability.