There is a burst of creativity underway by election officials, technologists and other stakeholders to improve the system (Photo Credit: The White House)
Last week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission hosted a Future of Voting Systems Symposium. The three-day meeting outside of Washington, DC was designed to look at the latest developments in the field of voting technology and assess how such developments mesh with the current federal structure for testing and certification.
The takeaway from the meeting was sobering and exciting; while it is increasingly clear that existing testing and certification requirements aren’t working, there is a burst of creativity underway by election officials, technologists and other stakeholders in the effort to design a different and better approach.
As usual, California was front and center on both fronts. Los Angeles County’s Dean Logan was featured on Day One of the conference, discussing the County’s Voting System Assessment Project, which aims to help the county design and deploy a new voting system that meets voters’ needs while still satisfying legal and technical requirements. Logan noted that the Legislature is considering legislation (SB360) to permit the development of such public voting technology and expressed optimism about using the process to jump-start voting technology past the current model of privately-owned, federally certified systems. That conversation was aided by a policy brief on the history of voting technology in California drafted by the California Voter Foundation’s Kim Alexander, which highlighted the challenges facing the state as it seeks to develop, test – and most importantly, pay for – a new generation of voting machines.
On Day Two, Ryan Macias of the Secretary of State’s office participated on a panel about “The Evolving Nature of State Certification” and discussed California’s efforts to enhance its own testing and certification regime to augment (or even replace) the federal system. He described California’s reporting system to identify problems and failures in voting systems, which fills in gaps left by the federal process, as well as efforts to bring vendors and local election officials together to troubleshoot emerging problems. He also noted Logan’s comments and indicated that California, like many states, is rethinking its relationship with the federal testing structure and is exploring the idea of combining state and federal testing or simply focusing its resources on state testing. Those discussions – and many others throughout the conference – were augmented by the views of the Verified Voting Foundation’s Pam Smith, who repeatedly beat the drum for ensuring that any standard (and testing) include auditability, which will allow election officials to certify elections and not just machines.
A highlight of Day Three was a keynote by usability expert Dana Chisnell focusing on the need to bring a voter-centered approach to election materials and especially voting information like sample ballots. Her call for simple, design-aware changes to the entire election experience echoes much of the work we are already seeing take place in California in the effort to improve the usability and content of state and local voter guides – whether printed or online.
Whatever the future of federal voting system certification – and it seems increasingly uncertain – it’s clear that California will play a huge role in what comes next. We are grateful that the Future of California Elections includes professionals like Dean Logan, and we are confident that the partnerships we have developed with state policymakers including the Secretary of State and the Legislature will yield consensus reforms that benefit all California voters.