Electronic voting machine lab suspended by feds over performance concerns

A Denver-based independent lab that tests and certifies electronic voting machines is being suspended by the federal Election Assistance Commission for failing to comply with national standards.

SysTest Labs was responsible for verifying machines for future elections made by two vendors: Election Systems and Software (ES&S) and Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold. Both firms have sold machines currently in use in Colorado, including the ES&S iVotronic machines that are allegedly flipping votes, according to multiple voter complaints across the nation.

Closer to home, a supporter of Democratic state Senate candidate Mary Hodge alerted an Adams County poll worker last week that a vote for Hodge repeatedly switched to her opponent on a Premier machine.

A lack of public confidence in touch-screen voting machines’ reliability forced the EAC to implement a more rigorous and publicly transparent system for certifying the equipment — a goal SysTest has apparently not been able to achieve.

SysTest was notified Wednesday that the EAC was suspending the lab’s involvement in the federal voting system certification process due to serious concerns raised during an on-site observation of the firm’s testing process two weeks ago.

In a letter dated Oct. 28 from the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the regulatory body in the U.S. Commerce Department that sets the testing requirements, SysTest is criticized for failing to create and validate test methods, maintain proper documentation of its testing and employ properly trained or qualified personnel.

Though the firm had provided software testing since 2001, problems arose soon after its February 2007 approval by the EAC as a hardware testing lab. Within four months of winning the newest contract, SysTest submitted 16 draft test plans for future models of ES&S and Premier voting machines, and only one was approved by the EAC. A dozen more letters from the commission over the last year indicated escalating concerns about the testing process, including an investigation of alleged undue influence on the lab’s independent testing process by ES&S.

A brief statement on the firm’s Web site pledged to respond to NIST’s “concerns to ensure timely reinstatement of the company’s accreditation to test electronic voting systems.”

Unfortunately for voters, the machines in use today were evaluated based on outmoded, nearly 20-year-old technical standards and harshly criticized for their lack of public accountability and huge conflict of interest — the testing process was paid for by the manufacturers themselves who extracted non-disclosure requirements from the labs.

Wired.com also reports that after two years the EAC has yet to certify a voting system under the new, improved guidelines.

Voters who experience problems at the polls, including voting machine errors, can contact the Election Protection coalition at 1-866-OUR-VOTE or Our Vote.com

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