Frequently Asked Questions
In 2005, the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) adopted the first set of voluntary voting system guidelines, as mandated under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). HAVA also requires that EAC provide certification, decertification, and recertification of voting systems and the accreditation of testing laboratories, marking the first time the federal government will be responsible for these activities. Under HAVA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will assist the EAC with the certification program through its National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP), and will provide recommendations to the EAC regarding laboratory accreditation. EAC will make the final decision to accredit laboratories based upon the information provided by NVLAP. Participation by states in EAC’s certification program is voluntary; however, over 40 states currently require EAC certification, or some component of the EAC program, for the voting systems used in their jurisdictions.
The purpose of EAC’s national voting system certification program is to independently verify that voting systems comply with the functional capabilities, accessibility, and security requirements necessary to ensure the integrity and reliability of voting system operation, as established in the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG).
Q: What does an EAC certification mean?
A: An EAC certified voting system has been tested by a federally accredited test laboratory and has successfully met the requirements of the VVSG and any other claims made by the voting system manufacturer.
Q: Do all voting systems used in federal elections have to be tested and certified by the EAC?
A: No. According to (HAVA), participation by the states in the EAC certification program or adoption of the VVSG is voluntary. However, states may formally adopt the VVSG, making these guidelines mandatory in their jurisdictions.
Q: How does the voting system certification process work?
A: The EAC accredits independent test laboratories (voting system test laboratories or VSTLs) that evaluate voting systems, and software against the voluntary voting system guidelines to determine if they provide all of the basic functionality, accessibility, and security capabilities required of these systems. The test laboratory provides a recommendation to the EAC, and the Commission’s Certification Division, working through the Executive Director makes the determination whether to issue a certification. Once a decision has been made, the EAC will post the information on the Voting System Certification section of the EAC Web site.
Q: How are the laboratories that test voting systems accredited?
A: HAVA states that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) assist the EAC through its National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP), which provides recommendations to the EAC regarding laboratory accreditation. After the EAC receives the recommendations from NVLAP, EAC conducts further review of the recommended laboratories to address non-technical issues such as conflict of interest policies, organizational structure, and recordkeeping protocols. After the EAC review, the Commission votes regarding full accreditation. Once the Commission votes to accredit a laboratory it is referred to as a voting system test laboratory (VSTL), and the information is posted at www.eac.gov.
Q: What is required of voting system manufacturers after a system is certified by EAC?
A: They must adhere to the EAC’s Quality Monitoring Program, which requires manufactures to submit reports of any voting system irregularities that occur with EAC-certified systems. The EAC will also conduct perioding manufacturing facility audit and Quality Assurance audits to verify that systems produced are the same as those certified and to make sure the manufacturers are following their own internal quality procedures. In addition, the EAC will also conduct site visits and reviews of EAC-certified systems used in elections. Manufacturers have additional reporting requirements, including notification of any modification to an EAC-certified system.
Q: How will the EAC hold manufacturers accountable under its program?
A: Manufacturers will be held accountable through EAC’s Quality Monitoring Program and its decertification process, which would be the ultimate sanction against a manufacturer. If a system is decertified, the manufacturer may not represent the system as being certified, may not label the system as certified, and the system will be removed from the EAC’s list of certified voting systems. Election officials and the public will be notified about the decertification.
Q: Why are manufacturers allowed to pay VSTL directly?
A: The EAC does not currently have the legal authority to collect money from voting system manufacturers to pay for the testing of voting systems. (sec 31 U.S.C. §3302(b), Miscellaneous Receipts Act). However, if Congress grants the EAC statutory authority to collect and use such funds, the Commission would establish a procedure to directly assign voting systems to a lab and pay the corresponding costs for the testing procedures.
Q: Are manufacturers allowed to choose which VSTL to use?
A: Yes. Regardless of which VSTL conducts the work, all labs will be held accountable under the EAC accreditation requirements and international lab standards. If a VSTL violates either EAC policy or the international standards, it risks losing its accreditation by both EAC and NVLAP. The concept of manufacturers contracting with independent test labs is consistent with numerous other federal government and private sector testing programs.
Q: Under the EAC certification program, will there be any repercussions for a manufacturer that misrepresents its product or refuses to address valid system failures?
A: Yes. For the first time, manufacturers will be held accountable through the EAC’s Quality Monitoring Program and its decertification process, which would be the ultimate sanction against a manufacturer. If a system is decertified, the manufacturer may not represent the system as being certified, may not label the system as certified, and the system will be removed from the EAC’s list of certified voting systems. Election officials and the public will be immediately notified about the decertification.
NIST & NVLAP
Questions and Answers About NIST Evaluation of Laboratories that Test Voting Systems
Q: What are the voluntary voting system guidelines (VVSG)?
A: The voluntary voting system guidelines are a set of specifications that voting systems, voting devices, and software must meet to receive a certification from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). EAC-accredited laboratories test voting systems, voting devices, and software against these guidelines.
Q: Must voting systems used in federal elections meet the requirements of the VVSG?
A: No, but all voting systems used in federal elections must meet the requirements of Section 301(a) of HAVA.
Q: Do states have to follow the VVSG?
A: No. Adoption of the VVSG and participation in EAC’s voting system certification program is voluntary. It is up to each state to choose, test, certify and implement voting systems.
Q: Do all voting systems used in federal elections have to be tested and certified by the EAC?
A: No. According to the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), participation by the states in the EAC certification program or adoption of the VVSG is voluntary. However, states may formally adopt the VVSG, making these guidelines mandatory in their jurisdictions.
Q: Do states have to use voting systems that have been certified by the EAC?
A: No. HAVA does not require states to use voting systems that have been certified by the EAC. Although participation in the program is voluntary, adherence to the program’s procedural requirements is mandatory for participants.
Q: What role does the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) play in helping EAC develop new revisions to the VVSG?
A: NIST provides technical assistance to the EAC on the development of the VVSG and accreditation of voting system test labs. They also conduct research periodically on topics concerning voting system technology.
Q: What is the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) and why did they issue recommendations for the next iteration of the VVSG?
A: The TGDC assists EAC in developing the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines. The chairperson of the TGDC is the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The TGDC is composed of 14 other members appointed jointly by EAC and the director of NIST.
The EAC tasked the TGDC with developing the next iteration of the guidelines. The TGDC delivered their draft recommendations for the next iteration of the VVSG on August 31, 2007. These are available on the EAC’s Web site.
Q: Did the EAC use the TGDC in the development of the 2005 VVSG revision?
A: In revising the 2005 VVSG, EAC used portions of the TGDC’s recommendations for the next iteration of the VVSG. In so doing, EAC took the hard work that the TGDC put into their recommendations and is attempting to use it to improve its program now. In addition, EAC encourages TGDC members and all members of the public to comment on the proposed revisions to the 2005 VVSG.
Q: What did you do with the thousands of comments you received on the TGDC recommended guidelines?
A: EAC staff read all of the more than 3,000 public comments received on the TGDC recommended guidelines and considered them carefully as we crafted the proposed revision to the 2005 VVSG. Some of the comments even shaped the content and wording of the proposed revisions.
Q: Would any of the revisions improve the accessibility and usability of voting systems?
A: Yes. We revised chapter three of the 2005 VVSG to reflect many of the accessibility and usability recommendations put forward by the TGDC.
Q: There seem to be multiple versions of federal voting system standards. Can you explain the evolution of their development?
A: 2005 VVSG
The EAC issued its first set of federal voting system guidelines in 2005, known as the 2005 VVSG. They were based on a revision of an existing standard, the 2002 Voting System Standards, which was used before the EAC was established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
After adopting the 2005 VVSG, EAC tasked the TGDC with developing the next iteration of the VVSG. The TGDC delivered its draft recommendations to the EAC in August of 2007. After receiving the TGDC’s recommendations, the EAC put them out for public comment. The public comment period ended in May 2008 with the EAC receiving more than 3000 comments.
Based on those comments and input from a variety of stakeholders, EAC decided to issue revisions to the 2005 VVSG. The revisions of the 2005 VVSG were taken almost exclusively from the next iteration of the VVSG and were adopted by the EAC in March 2015.
Q: What kind of information about the voting system testing and certification program is available to the public?
A: The following information will be posted on the Voting System Certification section of EAC’s Web site:
registered voting system manufacturers;
voting systems under consideration;
certified voting systems;
notices of clarifications;
denials of certification;
manufacturer appeals; and
The EAC also keeps the public informed by issuing program updates and providing the latest information in its electronic newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter send an e-mail to HAVAinfo@eac.gov or call the EAC toll free at 1-866-747-1471.
Q: Will the source code be available to the public?
A: No. The EAC will make all information available to the public consistent with Federal law. The EAC is prohibited under the Trade Secrets Act (18 U.S.C. §1905) from making the source code information available to the public. However, the test labs will examine the source code to ensure compliance with the voluntary voting system guidelines. Test plans, test reports, and other information about the test labs and the voting system manufacturers are available on www.eac.gov.
Q: What steps does the EAC take to help election officials use these systems? ?
A: An EAC-certified voting system’s performance on Election Day is impacted by a variety of factors, including pre-election testing, human interaction and poll worker training. There are thousands of election jurisdictions using a variety of voting systems, ballots and voting procedures. The EAC created election management materials to assist them with everything from logic and accuracy testing to poll worker training and accessibility procedures. The EAC has also produced training videos and ballot design best practices and images. These materials are available at www.eac.gov.
Q: Will the EAC track problems that occur in the field?
A: Yes. The EAC’s certification program establishes accountability through its Quality Monitoring Program which ensures, through various check points, that the voting systems used in the field are in fact the same systems the EAC has certified. For instance, under the program, the EAC has the ability to conduct site visits to production facilities to determine whether systems produced are consistent with those that have received EAC certification. In addition, the EAC will collect reports from election officials regarding voting system anomalies. After reviewing the reports, the EAC will share credible information with election officials. Furthermore, upon invitation or with permission from election officials, the EAC will conduct reviews of systems that are in use in the field.