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Election commission approves new guidelines to secure, update voting equipment

Election commission approves new guidelines to secure, update voting equipment
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A federal election commission on Wednesday approved new national guidelines to overhaul voting equipment standards, including boosting security, privacy and the use of paper ballots as well as the auditing of election results.

Election Assistance Commission (EAC) commissioners unanimously approved the guidelines, marking the most significant change to voting technology and equipment standards in over 15 years.

The guidelines, formally known as Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) 2.0, are the product of nearly six years of work by the EAC, election officials, technology experts and members of the public giving input.

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The VVSG are used by election equipment vendors to design and manufacture voting equipment. The federal commission uses the guidelines to test and certify much of the voting equipment used across the country. While the guidelines are not mandatory, most states refer to the standards for some portions of the election process.

The new guidelines require, among other security issues, that voting equipment be air-gapped or disconnected from other networks, along with requiring that any wireless connectivity in voting machines be disabled.

EAC Chairman Benjamin Hovland strongly endorsed the VVSG 2.0 during a virtual meeting held to vote on the guidelines, describing the standards as “a major step forward to ensure the next generation of voting equipment is more secure and accessible and ensures a better voting experience for all Americans.”

“I am proud that the VVSG 2.0 includes provisions to ensure that we have more paper ballots and built-in support for election officials to conduct more efficient post-election audits,” Hovland noted. “Every security expert I’ve heard from insists that paper ballots and audits provide confidence in the integrity of the system like nothing else.”

The EAC held a series of hearings to discuss the guidelines, and received more than 1,500 comments on how they could best update the previous standards.

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The new guidelines also take steps to improve voter privacy, physical security, equipment design, accessibility and other cybersecurity concerns such as the use of multifactor authentication for any critical updates to equipment. 

Hovland, EAC Vice Chairman Don Palmer and EAC Commissioners Thomas Hicks and Christy McCormick all applauded the approval of the guidelines in a joint statement released following the vote.

“It was a pleasure to work with such a knowledgeable and diverse team of experts to define a new standard,” the commissioners said. “We are proud of the work accomplished. An exciting future awaits but there is a lot of hard work yet to be done. We look forward to those next steps and to see these standards implemented.”

A coalition of the major U.S. voting equipment manufacturers — including Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems and Software and Smartmatic — applauded the EAC’s vote on Wednesday to approve the VVSG 2.0.

“This step is a significant achievement in completing the first phase of a years-long process by establishing benchmarks for developing, testing and certifying next-generation voting systems in the United States,” the voting equipment vendors, which also included Hart InterCivic, Clear Ballot, Unisyn Voting Solutions and MicroVote, said in a joint statement provided to The Hill.

The voting equipment manufacturers encouraged the EAC to develop an implementation process for the new guidelines, in particular for equipment recently purchased by states with the use of federal election security funds, and to establish reasonable timeframes for fully implementing the new standards for future voting equipment.

“The full implementation of VVSG 2.0 will eventually establish new benchmarks for usability, security and verifiability of federally-certified voting systems,” the companies noted. “These standards will continue to assure voters that such systems are secure, accessible, transparent, accurate, reliable and resilient.”