New Standards for Elections: A forum on technical and nontechnical requirements for voting systems

Monday, February 21, 2005 - 7:00pm
Living room
Host: Dr. Rebecca Mercuri, Radcliffe Institute Fellow and member of the P1583 committee
Rebecca Mercuri
Ronald Rivest
David Chaum
Ted Selker

This forum will provide an opportunity for technical and policy experts and interested citizens to discuss the voting system standards effort and broader issues regarding the national reform of election operations, with members of the P1583 committee and voting equipment vendors. Invited speakers will provide background and status information on these topics. The meeting will include a large portion of open discussion from the floor on technical and nontechnical opportunities for election reform through standards.

The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments provided by IEEE Boston Section. Pre-registration is required due to limited capacity; to preregister, send email including name and affiliation to: For more information visit or (Feb events), or contact Alex Brown (617) 308-9456.

Speakers include:

  • Rebecca Mercuri
  • Ronald Rivest
  • David Chaum
  • Ted Selker


  • Carol Rose, Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts

Until 2002 there was no Federal law specifying election equipment requirements. It comes as a surprise to nearly every middle school civics student to discover that there is no Federal authority for election management -- state and local laws govern election practice throughout the United States. Federal laws on voting are dominated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment's permanent guarantee that, throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. Access to voting equipment was also ensured by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and related legislation, and standards for accessibility and usability by blind, disabled, and non-English-speaking voters were produced but remained voluntary.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), enacted by Congress in October 2002, gave the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) a key role in helping to realize nationwide improvements in voting systems. New requirements for the manufacture and testing of electronic voting machines are being developed, as an extension to the prior Federal Elections Commission's recommended Voting System Standards and voting machine certification program. NIST and HAVA are relying on the IEEE, through their Standards Association process, to provide salient guidance and input from voting equipment vendors and independent experts.

Over the past three years, the IEEE Standards Association Voting Systems Standards (SCC38) Project on Voting Equipment (P1583) developed a detailed functional description for precinct-based balloting and ballot counting equipment. This document, IEEE-STD P1583 "Draft Standard for Evaluation of Voting Equipment", is (at time of writing) approaching its second attempt at approval within the IEEE Standards Association process. Its first circulation resulted in over 1000 comments that have considerably improved the document, but numerous areas of contention and disagreement still exist. The Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the NIST Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was expected to adopt these IEEE standards for voting equipment as final Voting System Standards but is in no position to wait for P1583 to resolve this debate. Guidelines must be available in time for implementation with a nine month lead of the Jan. 1, 2006 deadline, or April 9, 2005. TGDC began meeting in July 2004 and subcommittees did not begin work until September. Slow progress of P1583 remains an obstacle to meeting HAVA's goal in 2006 of providing improved voting equipment "... to reduce voter error and the number of spoiled ballots in elections." Because voting machine error, and large numbers of "spoiled" ballots, esp. in minority communities, were important problems in the 2004 elections, these goals are more important than ever. Meanwhile, new research indicates that election systems technology may not be a mature, stable field, ready for standardization. Many cryptographers working on election systems security believe that well-established methods of mathematical cryptography can be used to build systems which provide confidence that votes are collected and counted correctly, while providing public voting records that also ensure ballot secrecy -- even if voters, voting machines and election administrators are all untrustworthy. They promise truly clean voting system methods using computers to provide mathematically provable security and trust for an election, when combined with countermeasures in a voting machine implementation and in human-administered procedures. These methods are new, complex, and not fully tested in practice, and assertions made about them are far beyond the ability of the average voter to evaluate, raising new questions of election transparency, but also raising the possibility of a new standard of technical confidence in election practice. With demand rising for true national standards for election operations, this level of technical confidence may become a realistic goal.