August 8th Headline: “Debut of Johnson County’s new ES&S voting machines devolves into debacle

With the nation watching for results from hotly contested gubernatorial and congressional primaries, the debut of Johnson County’s [Kansas] new ES&S ExpressVote machines devolved into a debacle Tuesday night as the election office was unable to generate voting tallies.”[1]

A subsequent report [2] stated “The software program that was deployed for the August 7 primary election had been certified by the EAC [Election Assistance Commission] on July 2. The specific combination of hardware and software put into the field by the Johnson County Election Office for the primaries had never been fielded for a live election anywhere in the country before.”

The EAC, a Federal Government agency, had originally accredited seven independent, non-federal laboratories qualified to test voting systems with oversight by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but currently only two such labs are active within their program. [3] One of those labs was responsible for providing the agency with evidence of this system’s correct performance.

Interestingly, the EAC Voting System Testing and Certification Program Manual [4] does not specify any standard or guidance for test design or for qualifications of testing personnel. Instead, the manual provides appendices with test plan outlines “provided solely as an aid to test plan development” and without any requirements for judging adequacy.

It’s a fundamental testing principle that each “specific combination of hardware and software” must be scrutinized as a unique system. What is not yet clear is how well Johnson County’s specific configuration was tested or where inadequacies will be identified for correction.

With increasing scrutiny of the security of our voting process, the foundations must be assured. Otherwise the bad guys won’t have to work at breaking our software; it will break on its own. That’s a headline we can all wish to avoid.

Editor’s Note: We’re happy to report the headlines recently started to improve in October: “Johnson County Election Commissioner announces certification of new vote reporting software.”[5]