HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) - The three companies that certify the
nation's voting technologies operate in secrecy, and refuse to
discuss flaws in the ATM-like machines to be used by nearly one in
three voters in November.
Despite concerns over whether the so-called touchscreen machines
can be trusted, the testing companies won't say publicly if they
have encountered shoddy workmanship.
They say they are committed to secrecy in their contracts with
the voting machines' makers - even though tax money ultimately buys
or leases the machines.
"I find it grotesque that an organization charged with such a
heavy responsibility feels no obligation to explain to anyone what
it is doing," Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist
and electronic voting expert, told lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
The system for "testing and certifying voting equipment in this
country is not only broken, but is virtually nonexistent," Shamos
Although up to 50 million Americans are expected to vote on
touchscreen machines on Nov. 2, federal regulators have virtually no
oversight over testing of the technology. The certification process,
in part because the voting machine companies pay for it, is
described as obsolete by those charged with overseeing it.
The testing firms - CIBER and Wyle Laboratories in Huntsville and
SysTest Labs in Denver - are also inadequately equipped, some
Federal regulations specify that every voting system used must be
validated by a tester. Yet it has taken more than a year to gain
approval for some election software and hardware, leading some
states to either do their own testing or order uncertified
That wouldn't be such an issue if not for troubles with
touchscreens, which were introduced broadly in a bid to modernize
voting technology after the 2000 presidential election
ballot-counting fiasco in Florida.
Failures involving touchscreens during voting this year in
Georgia, Maryland and California and other states have prompted
questions about the machines' susceptibility to tampering and
Also in question is their viability, given the lack of paper
records, if recounts are needed in what's shaping up to be a tightly
contested presidential race. Paper records of each vote were
considered a vital component of the electronic machines used in last
week's referendum in Venezuela on whether to recall President Hugo
Critics of reliance on touchscreen machines want not just paper
records - only Nevada among the states expects to have them
installed in its touchscreens come November - but also public
scrutiny of the software they use. The machine makers have resisted.
"Four years after the last presidential election, very little has
been done to assure the public of the accuracy and integrity of our
voting systems," Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., told members of a House
subcommittee in June at the same hearing at which Shamos testified.
"If there are any problems, we will spend years rebuilding the
public's confidence in our voting systems," Udall said. "We need to
squarely face the fact that there have been serious problems with
voting equipment deployed across the country in the past two years."
In Huntsville, the window blinds were closed when a reporter
visited the office suite where CIBER Inc. employees test voting
machine software. A woman who unlocked the door said no one inside
could answer questions about testing.
Shawn Southworth, a voting equipment tester at the laboratory,
said in a telephone interview that he wouldn't publicly discuss the
company's work. He referred questions to a spokeswoman at CIBER
headquarters in Greenwood Village, Colo., who never returned
CIBER, founded in 1974, is a public company that promotes itself
as an international systems integration consultant. Its government
and private-sector clients include the Air Force, IBM and AT&T.
In 2003, government work generated the largest percentage of the
company's total revenue, 26 percent.
Also in a sprawl of high-tech businesses that feed off Redstone
Arsenal and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville is the
division of Wyle Laboratories Inc. that tests U.S. elections
hardware, including touchscreens made by market leaders Diebold Inc.
Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. and Election Systems & Software Inc.
Wyle spokesman Dan Reeder refused to provide details on how the
El Segundo, Calif.-based company, which has been vetting hardware
for the space industry since 1949 in Huntsville, tests the voting
"Our work on election machines is off-limits," Reeder said. "We
just don't discuss it." He did allow, though, that the testing
includes "environmental simulation...shake, rattle and roll."
Carolyn Goggins, a spokeswoman for SysTest Labs, the only other
federally approved election software and hardware tester, refused to
discuss the company's work.
More than a decade ago, the Federal Election Commission
authorized the National Association of State Election Directors to
choose the independent testers.
On its Web site, the association says the three testing outfits
"have neither the staff nor the time to explain the process to the
public, the news media or jurisdictions." It directs inquiries a
Houston-based nonprofit organization, the Election Center, that
assists election officials. The center's executive director, Doug
Lewis, did not return telephone messages seeking comment.
The election directors' voting systems board chairman, former New
York State elections director Thomas Wilkey, said the testers'
secrecy stems from the FEC's refusal to take the lead in choosing
them and the government's unwillingness to pay for it.
He said that left election officials no choice but to find
technology companies willing to pay.
"When we first started this program it took us over a year to
find a company that was interested, then along came Wyle, then CIBER
and then SysTest," Wilkey said of he standards developed over five
years and adopted in 1990.
"Companies that do testing in this country have not flocked to
the prospect of testing voting machines," said U.S. Election
Assistance Commission chairman DeForest Soaries Jr., now the top
federal overseer of voting technology.
A 2002 law, the Help America Vote Act, created the four-member,
bipartisan headed by Soaries to oversee a change to easier and more
Soaries said there should be more testers but the three firms are
"doing a fine job with what they have to work with."
Wilkey, meanwhile, predicted "big changes" in the testing process
after the November election.
But critics led by Stanford University computer science professor
David Dill say it's an outrage that the world's most powerful
democracy doesn't already have an election system so transparent its
citizens know it can be trusted.
"Suppose you had a situation where ballots were handed to a
private company that counted them behind a closed door and burned
the results," said Dill, founder of VerifiedVoting.org. "Nobody but
an idiot would accept a system like that. We've got something that
is almost as bad with electronic voting."
On The Net:
U.S. Election Assistance Commission: http://www.eac.gov/
Associated Press writers Erica Werner in Washington; Rachel
Konrad in San Jose, Calif.; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham contributed
to this report.