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Ciber-sleuthing in the secret world of voting machine accreditation

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The mystery of Sarasota, Florida's 18,000 "undervotes" in the recent Congressional elections gets more confusing when one tries to penetrate the wall of secrecy surrounding testing of the controversial electronic voting machines at issue.

The day after the New York Times reported on the Election Assistance Commission ban on Ciber, Inc., the nation's largest so-called independent testing authority, Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Elections was quick to tell the Sarasota Herald Tribune that Ciber had no role in the minimum performance standards of the ES&S voting machines in Sarasota. Independent testing labs, including Ciber, are funded by the voting machine vendors and receive lax oversight from the EAC, which secretly pulled Ciber's permit to test voting machines last year.

According to Ivey's statement to the Herald Tribune, a different test lab, Wyle Laboratories, actually conducted a "review" of the ES&S iVotronic machines used in Sarasota. However, Ciber's role in approval of the iVotronic machines is not quite that simple to dismiss.

Joe Hall, a respected electronic voting machine authority and self-described "politechnologist", explains there is more to the hidden process of certification than meets the eye. "Since the test reports are not public, it is difficult to find information about who tested what when."

Hall explains that Ciber was the primary federal testing body for the ES&S iVotronic model voting machine. However, since Florida has its own standards the equipment sometimes has add-ons not tested by Ciber, as is the case in Sarasota where a different version of the "election management system" Unity program was added. Hall has written, "The software on the DRE [Direct Recording Electronic] itself should be the same (note the firmware versions for the iVotronic are the same)."

Ivey's denial of Ciber's involvement seems to suggest that Wyle Laboratories actually tested both the iVotronic model software and its non-federally approved Unity add-on. But did Wyle actually conduct a full test or accept Ciber's approval of the ES&S software and only review the Unity add-on?

According to Ivey, the Wyle review of the iVotronic took place sometime before the state approved use of the voting machine model in 2002. Sarasota voters that were victims of the "undervote" phenomenon might not be able to take as much comfort from the apparent double-testing of the iVotronic as they would like. In neighboring Georgia, the state voting machine vendor Diebold, had to begin a month-long "patch" of 22,000 voting machines in September 2002 to prevent the touch-screen machines from freezing up. In Georgia, both Ciber and Wyle shared testing responsibilities and both labs approved the flawed machines.

Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, researched the Diebold "patch", examining all available documents and interviewing Georgia's Assistant Director of Elections. Harris concluded, "We have thousands of defective voting systems that somehow made it through Wyle's hardware testing, Ciber's software testing, Diebold's factory testing, rigorous testing on arrival at the Georgia warehouse and more testing when delivered to each of Georgia's 159 counties."

Ivey did admit to the Herald Tribune that Ciber tested the centralized "election management system" software used to tabulate the votes recorded by the iVotronic touch screens in Sarasota. Further, the Technical Advisory issued on March 3, 2006, by the Florida Division of Elections warning of security threats relied on Ciber's "Source Code Review and Functional Testing reports" rather than test information from Wyle.

At this time, no further tests of the iVotronic machines or any ES&S voting equipment are scheduled by the state. How much actual reliance Florida election officials have placed in Ciber is hidden behind the EAC wall of secrecy that surrounds the testing laboratories, a wall of secrecy made more impenetrable by the laboratories' claims of trade secrets.

[Permission granted to reprint]

 

Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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