Voting rules author says standards unachievable

New equipment tests contributed to decertification

By Chris Bragg
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Remember a year ago, when county clerks kept moaning that the state’s standards for testing voting equipment were impossibly high?

That’s just as it was supposed to be, according to testimony Tuesday from one of the chief authors of Colorado’s rules for testing voting equipment.

Paul Craft, a voting consultant from the Freeman, Craft, McGregor Group in Florida, co-chaired a nine-person panel of IT experts that rewrote the standards for testing the state’s electronic voting equipment in the spring of 2007.

In testimony before the Election Reform Commission at the Capitol, Craft said those standards, known as the secretary of state’s “Rule 45,” were intentionally written so that electronic voting vendors could not possibly meet them.

“When the current voting system standards were drafted, the people drafting those basically put in requirements that they knew the voting systems wouldn’t meet,” Craft said.

The purpose of the impossibly tough standards, Craft testified, was for the state to gain leverage over electronic voting vendors. Craft said that — by eventually issuing a report showing that the vendors’ equipment wasn’t up to snuff — Colorado could force the vendors to improve their product here.

“[The rule’s drafters] did that in an effort to move the systems forward, to get the vendors to meet those standards in the future,” Craft said. “And the leverage would be a ‘report’ that [the voting systems] didn’t meet those.”

That same report, however, which showed myriad problems with each voting system tested in Colorado, also resulted in Secretary of State Mike Coffman’s initial decision to decertify about half the state’s voting equipment last December.

However, according to Department of State legal analyst Stephanie Cegielski, although the high standards written by Craft and others certainly could have contributed to the 2007 decertification, the rules governing the testing of electronic voting machines had not been written with that express purpose in mind.

Rather, she said, the rules had been based on high standards that would serve the state over the long haul, with the knowledge that Colorado’s election officials could work through technological problems by coming up with practical short-term solutions.

“The standards that were placed in the rule were put there with the understanding that they’d be there for future equipment testing as well,” she said.

Cegielski said the standards were more stringent than those required by a September 2006 court order requiring Colorado to retest its electronic voting equipment. Instead, she said, they were largely based on federal rules for testing voting equipment.

In his testimony, Craft said he had been unconcerned about writing such tough standards because he knew that, ultimately, Coffman could certify equipment for the 2008 election by saying it met the standard of “substantial compliance” with the law.

In fact, after the initial decertification of the equipment, Coffman eventually did use that standard to recertify all the state’s voting equipment — but not before the passage of legislation allowing him to do so, months of angst for county clerks across the state and expensive fixes for problems uncovered by the uber-stringent testing.

Craft’s testimony comes as the Election Reform Commission, a 11-member panel that will recommend election reforms to the upcoming legislative session, looks at whether Colorado should move away from state-level testing in favor of federal certification of voting equipment. Those stringent standards — which were written by Craft, among others — remain on the books.

Craft’s testimony seemed to offer validation for the many county clerks who have been complaining that the new standards were too stringent for the current voting technology.

“Anyone who has experience conducting elections and reads Rule 45 ... is certainly smart enough to realize it is over the top and truly a setup for failure,” said Mesa County Clerk Janice Rich.

“It’s too bad that during the hearings and drafting of Rule 45, all of the warnings by experienced election officials fell on deaf ears,” she added.

As testing dragged on six months after the date it was scheduled to end, the state’s four electronic voting vendors also complained that the new standards were impossible to meet.

Meanwhile, the elections division of the Department of State collected 45,000 printed pages of documentation and 250 DVDs showing the equipment being tested.

Rich recently sent a letter to members of the Election Reform Commission urging primary reliance on federal testing of voting equipment in future elections. The state’s “requirements still exceed the technology of all four vendors currently certified,” Rich stated in the letter.

Speaking of future elections, on Tuesday, the Election Reform Commission also heard from federal Election Assistance Commission Director Rosemary Rodriguez, a Coloradan who is one of the favorites to win the soon-to-be-vacant secretary of state’s job.

The EAC has drawn some fire for taking so long to produce new standards for certifying voting equipment under new federal rules, which have not been updated since 2005. Rodriguez said the process is slow because the EAC is being thorough.

“The EAC is unapologetic about holding voting systems to strenuous standards,” she said.

Rodriguez recommended that Colorado eventually require all electronic voting equipment to adhere to the new federal standards, even if it keeps the state testing. However, she said, the state should not be too “prescriptive” in any law requiring adherence to the new standards because the timeline for producing them remains unclear.

In his testimony, however, Craft recommended that Colorado continue using its current state-level certification because it allows the state to punish voting vendors who fail to improve their technology.

He juxtaposed Colorado’s process with federal testing of electronic voting equipment currently being performed by Rodriguez’s EAC. The EAC has lagged in certifying equipment under new federal standards, Craft said, because it currently lacks such leverage to punish voting vendors if they didn’t meet EAC standards.

“We have been basically pushing them uphill, rather than having the carrot to get them up to us,” Craft said of the voting vendors’ attitude towards the EAC. “I frankly like the ‘approval for use concept’ you have in Colorado law now.”