9 things about voting machines

The National Council of State Legislatures has a released a report on voting machines: Elections Technology: Nine Things Legislators May Want to Know  <read>

It makes a strong case for the importance of technology in elections, planning, and understanding the details.

“What makes you lose sleep?” That’s what NCSL staff asked members of the National Association of State Election Directors back in September 2012. The answer wasn’t voter ID, or early voting, or turnout, as we expected. Instead, it was this: “Our equipment is aging, and we aren’t sure we’ll have workable equipment for our citizens to vote on beyond 2016.”

That was NCSL’s wake-up call to get busy and learn how elections and technology work together. We’ve spent much of the last two years focusing on that through the Elections Technology Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. One thing we learned is that virtually all election policy choices have a technology component. Just two examples: vote centers and all-mail elections. While both can be debated based on such values as their effect on voters, election officials and budgets, neither can be decided without considering technology. Vote centers rely on e-poll books, and all-mail elections depend on optical scan equipment to handle volumes of paper ballots.

It  points to the importance of security in voting systems, the risks of Internet voting and pointing out the ‘pressure’ to do Internet voting.  We especially an additional borrowed list within the report:

Ten Things to Know About Selecting a Voting System

While NCSL was finalizing its list of “things to know,” Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University in Georgia was working on another brand-new list with a similar goal. His list focuses on what to look for when choosing a voting system. Interestingly, there are no points of disagreement between our list and his and no overlap.

1. A voting system is the core technology that drives and integrates the system—and it is the part the voter touches.

2. Know who does what and why. Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, problems will occur.

3. The true cost of ownership is the cost to purchase, operate and maintain a voting system over its life span. It is more than you think.

4. The request for proposal (RFP) is your first, last and best chance to get the system requirements right. Systems are never better than the RFPs used to define the requirements.

5. Changing a voting system is like changing tires on the bus … without stopping. A transition plan may allow the seamless migration from the old system to the new system, with minimum disruption.

6. Training and education may cost more than the purchase price of the system when you factor in voter education, poll workers, election officials, etc.

7. How long will new systems last? What shortens their lives? What needs to be done before purchase to ensure long life?

8. All modern voting systems are “multimodal,” meaning they will have to function for vote-by-mail ballots, in-person voting, online ballot return, etc. That means flexibility in the architecture is required to avoid retrofitting later.

9. Either you manage vendors or they manage you. Pick.

10. Know the “known unknowns,” such as security, accessibility, auditability, usability, voter convenience, transparency of process and testing and certification requirements.


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