GAO: Some Elements of Voting System Guidelines Discourage Innovative Development

A GAO study found that local election jurisdictions were generally satisfied with voting equipment performance which, in the 2016 election, was primarily optical scan and touch screen technology.

The report was conducted because much of the equipment acquired with federal funds after the enactment of the Help America Vote Act in 2002 may now be reaching the end of its lifespan, and some states and local election jurisdictions are considering whether to replace their equipment.

GAO estimated that jurisdictions with 63 percent (from 54 to 72 percent) of the population nationwide used optical or digital scan equipment as their predominant voting equipment during the election, while jurisdictions with 32 percent (from 23 to 41 percent) of the population nationwide used DREs.

The survey results indicated that accurate vote counting and efficiency of operation were top benefits experienced by jurisdictions for both types of equipment, and storage and transportation costs were a top challenge. GAO also estimated that jurisdictions with 93 percent (from 88 to 96 percent) of the population nationwide did not experience equipment errors or malfunctions on a very or somewhat common basis and jurisdictions with 96 percent (from 94 to 98 percent) of the population were very or generally satisfied with the performance of their equipment during the 2016 general election.

The report identified four key factors that jurisdictions and states consider when deciding whether to replace voting equipment. These are the need for equipment to meet federal, state, and local voting system standards and requirements, cost to acquire new equipment and availability of funding, the ability to maintain equipment and receive timely vendor support and overall performance and features of equipment.

GAO surveyed stakeholders, state election officials and seven selected voting system vendors, who had varying perspectives on how the current voluntary federal voting system guidelines affected the replacement and development of voting equipment. These guidelines can be used to test and certify equipment to verify that it meets baseline functionality, accessibility, and security requirements. Most stakeholders found that the guidelines were helpful for equipment developers, provided cost savings for states that do not have to duplicate federal testing, and assurance that certified equipment meets certain requirements.

However, GAO found that aspects of the guidelines could discourage the development of innovative equipment and limit the choices of voting equipment on the market. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which is responsible for developing the federal guidelines, is updating them with stakeholder input and plans to issue a new version in late summer 2018.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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