In advance of this week’s EVN Conference, we’ve been talking frequently with colleagues at several election oriented groups (Brennan Center, National Conference of State Legislatures, EAC, NIST, and others) about the way forward from the current voting system certification regime. One of the topics for the EVN conference is a shared goal for many of us: how to move toward a near future certification regime that can much better serve state election officials in states that want to have more control, customization, and tailoring of the certification process, to better serve the needs of their local election officials.

As readers will have noticed, I am already in the process of laying out several recommendations for certification reform, in response to the open discussion on that issue, broadly, at the recent NIST/EAC Symposium. However, for the road towards new state certification programs, I can relatively briefly make 3 main points. If progress on all 3 is rapid — and I believe that it is possible — then we could see a lot more flexibility for states, without any dilution of the fundamental controls that certification is for. The 3 points are: process simplification, voting system components, and (for lack of a better term) chunking of requirements.

Simplification

The biggest single way to simplify certification is to reduce the scope of testing, by focusing on those requirements that are essential to evidence-based voting systems, and dropping those requirements that don’t fit them. That doesn’t work for every voting system, but it does fit the desires of most if not all states that are currently looking at more localization of certification, and new voting systems that are evidence-based. But what’s that all about? Details already provided here, this previous post.

Components

So, if you first focus on evidence-based voting systems, then limit the requirements appropriately, then you can look at not the whole of current voting system products, but rather individual components. A state may not want to certify a election management system product (EMS), because in its definition of evidence-based systems, and EMS doesn’t create evidence, and doesn’t cast or count ballots. But such a state may want to require a vendor to work with a test lab on testing a specific component like a ballot marking device or a ballot counting device.

With the smaller scope of testing enabled by simplification, a focus on individual components can take an even bigger step to creating smaller, more manageable test and certification, more amenable to state adjustment, than the current monolithic multi-year scheme.

But what would component certification amount to in practice? What are “components,” how would they work together; and what are the requirements and standards?  Many questions, but also at least the beginning of some answers in recent posts like this one.

Chunking

For lack of a better word, “chunking” of voting system requirements is the term that I use for how states could use future voting system requirements and testing guidelines that have been simplified and focused on voting system components in the way I refer to above. Requirements could be composed of related but separable chunks, where some chunks can be used independent of others, in the context of one state’s process of certifying a single component, based on testing of it, using the state’s selection of chunks.

For example, a state may wish to certify a ballot marking device (BMD). They may require a test lab to test the BMD using chunks of requirements from a larger set of (future, perhaps federal) voting systems requirements. They might direct the BMD’s provider, and a test lab, to focus testing on usability/accessibility, and reliability, but not other sets of requirements that might apply to (say) ballot counting devices but not BMDs.

Summary

Well, that’s the broad vision anyway. The first 2 of the 3 steps are in progress or in reach. My personal belief is these efforts might go faster if we also incorporated the idea of having future voting system requirements that, because of simplification and componentization, are much more amenable to States being able to pick and choose the chunks that are the most helpful to their objectives.

— EJS