United States Election Assistance Comittee

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Voluntary Voting System Guidelines Fact Sheet

Three iterations of federal voting system standards have been issued by the federal government. The first set of standards was created in 1990 by the Federal Election Commission (FEC.) In 2002, the FEC updated the standards by adopting a second iteration.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) created the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and transferred the responsibility of developing voting system standards from the FEC to the EAC. HAVA also tasked the EAC with establishing the federal government’s first voting system certification program.

In 2005, the EAC issued the third iteration, called the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), in accordance with HAVA. These guidelines were developed by the EAC’s federal advisory committee, the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

According to HAVA, adoption of the VVSG at the state level is voluntary. However, states may formally adopt the VVSG, making these guidelines mandatory in their jurisdictions.

The 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines

The EAC adopted the VVSG on December 13, 2005, after a thorough and transparent public comment process. The EAC conducted an initial review and then released the proposed guidelines for a 90-day public comment period. Each of the more than 6,000 comments was reviewed and considered before the document was finalized and adopted, and all comments were posted on the EAC’s Web site. The EAC held public hearings about the VVSG in New York City, NY; Pasadena, CA; and Denver, CO. The final version was adopted at the public meeting on December 13, 2005. The 2005 VVSG, public comments, and a summary of changes from the draft to the final version are available here on the EAC’s Web site.

EAC-accredited test laboratories currently test voting systems to both the 2002 voting system standards and the 2005 VVSG. Voting systems submitted for testing after December 13, 2007, will be tested only to the 2005 VVSG.

The Next Iteration of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines

The TDGC draft guidelines were delivered to the EAC in August 2007. The TGDC’s draft is a complete re-write of the 2005 guidelines, intended to address the next generation of voting systems. The guidelines contain new and expanded material in the areas of reliability and quality, usability and accessibility, security, and testing. The TGDC draft prohibits radio frequency (RF) wireless, address software independence and include improved requirements for the overall reliability of voter verifiable paper audit trail voting systems.

The TGDC draft guidelines require software independence, a concept created for purposes of the draft as a high level security requirement for all voting systems. According to the TGDC draft, software independence can be achieved through the use of independent voter verifiable records (IVVR) or through the innovation class. Additionally, the TGDC draft recommends open-ended vulnerability testing (OEVT), a testing method designed to bring greater security to voting systems in the polling place.

The introduction of EAC’s public comment tool launches the first of four phases leading to the adoption of a final version.

Phase I – The EAC submits the TGDC’s draft document to the Federal Register and launches the first public comment phase with an online comment tool available at www.eac.gov. The public comment period will last for 120 days and all comments will be made public. The EAC will also hold public meetings with stakeholders to discuss the proposed guidelines.

Phase II – The EAC will collect and review all public comments submitted on the TGDC draft. After consideration of all public comments, the EAC will perform an internal review.

Phase III – Based upon public comment and internal review of the TGDC document, the EAC will develop and publish its draft version in the Federal Register. The public will have another 120 days to comment on the EAC draft version. In addition, the EAC will conduct public hearings about its draft version.

Phase IV – The EAC will collect and review all comments submitted and make final modifications. The final version of the VVSG will be adopted by vote of the Commission at a public meeting and then published in the Federal Register.

Structure of the TGDC Draft Guidelines

The TGDC draft is divided into three main parts. It also includes an introduction and a glossary. The glossary can be found at the end of the document as "Appendix A" (Definition of Words with Special Meanings), and it indicates that the definitions provided there are special to the VVSG and may not conform to local or traditional usage.

  • Introduction - provides background information about voting system standards and guidelines; the purpose and scope; and an overview of new and expanded material.

  • Part I: Equipment Requirements – includes general core requirements for voting systems and voting devices. It includes security and audit architecture, usability, accessibility and privacy requirements, security requirements, and general core requirements. 

  • Part II: Documentation Requirements – contains requirements that apply to the technical data package, voting equipment user documentation, the test plan, the test report, the public information package, and data for repositories.

  • Part III: Testing Requirements – this section describes the way voting system test laboratories are to determine if voting systems, voting devices and software meet the requirements of the VVSG.

Fast Facts
  • FEC adopts the federal government’s first set of voting system standards in 1990. Federal government does not test voting equipment against these standards

  • The National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) begins testing voting equipment against the 1990 standards; NASED, a non-governmental entity, voluntarily offers the service to the states

  • In 2002, FEC updates 1990 standards

  • NASED begins testing voting systems against the 2002 standards

  • The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) creates the EAC

  • HAVA transfers the responsibility of developing voting system standards from the FEC to the EAC

  • HAVA requires EAC to set up the federal government’s first program to test voting equipment against the federal standards

  • HAVA renames the voting system standards, listing them as the voluntary voting system guidelines (VVSG)

  • NASED terminates its voting system testing program in July 2006

  • EAC launches full testing and certification program in January 2007