U.S. Election Assistance Commission set to retire current voting system standards, transition to updated certification guidelines

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an independent and bipartisan commission established by the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), will retire the standards currently used to test and federally certify voting equipment, known as Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) versions 1.0 and 1.1, on November 16, 2023. A new version of the VVSG, version 2.0, will replace the retired standards. According to the requirements established in the HAVA, the EAC is responsible for developing, maintaining, and updating the VVSG.

The Voluntary Voting System Guidelines are used to test and certify voting systems and equipment for several factors, including “basic functionality, accessibility, and security capabilities.” Federal law does not require voting equipment to comply with Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, though some states legally require compliance.

The commissioners of the EAC voted 4-0 to adopt VVSG 2.0 on February 20, 2021. This action began a process called deprecation. When a previously used VVSG is retired, or deprecated, voting systems and equipment certified to the deprecated standard retain their certification, and jurisdictions may continue to use and acquire previously certified equipment.

The retirement of VVSGs 1.0 and 1.1 will be the first deprecation of a voting system standard by the EAC since HAVA established the Commission in 2002, and VVSG 2.0 will be the first update to federal voting system standards implemented since the Commission adopted VVSG 1.1 in March 2015. According to the EAC’s Technical Guidelines Development Committee, VVSG 2.0 requirements “allow for an improved and consistent voter experience, enabling all voters to vote privately and independently, ensuring votes are marked, verified and cast as intended, and that the final count represents the true will of the voters.” In particular, the new guidelines include an expanded focus on voting system cybersecurity.

The National Association for State Election Directors (NASED), a professional organization for state election directors, expressed concern about potential confusion and the possibility of disinformation around the deprecation process. In a March 17, 2023, letter, NASED representatives said, “History has proven that false information will spread regarding the seemingly bureaucratic components of the EAC’s voting system testing and certification program. … We expect inaccurate claims about equipment certified to the deprecated standard as the 2024 presidential election cycle begins.” The EAC responded to these concerns on March 24, “The U.S. Elections Assistance Commission … is firmly committed to combating election misinformation, including about EAC-certified voting systems and the upcoming deprecation of previous iterations of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines. … Enacting the VVSG 2.0 was a very important step to enhance our election security, which is a national security imperative.”

The EAC is composed of four members who may serve up to two consecutive four-year terms. Commissioners are appointed by the president subject to the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. Former presidents Barack Obama (D) and Donald Trump (R) each nominated two of the current EAC commissioners; the Senate confirmed all four unanimously. In addition to maintaining federal voting system standards, the Commission also accredits and certifies Voting System Test Laboratories (VSTLs), audits of the use of HAVA funds, and helps states achieve compliance with HAVA by serving as a national clearinghouse of election-related information, all in accordance with the requirements of HAVA.

Before the creation of the EAC, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was responsible for the creation of federal voting system standards. The FEC adopted the first such standard, called Performance and Test Standards for Punchcard, Marksense and Direct Recording Electronic Voting System, in January 1990, followed by Voting Systems Standards (VSS) in March 2002.

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