HAVA Works, Says EAC Chairman

By Debra D'Agostino  |  Posted 08-11-2006

Paul DeGregorio is chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the agency responsible for enforcing the Help America Vote Act. For more than two decades, DeGregorio has lent his expertise on voting systems to states and nations around the globe, and in 2004 he received the Freedom Award from the National Association of Secretaries of State in recognition of his efforts. Senior Reporter Debra D'Agostino spoke recently with DeGregorio about the future of electronic voting in the U.S.

CIO Insight: Where are we on the road to creating a truly secure and accurate elections process?
DeGregorio:
I think we are moving forward. With HAVA and the infusion of significant federal dollars to buy new equipment, there has been a major push throughout the country to purchase new voting machines. Many jurisdictions are using these systems for the first time, so there are a lot of transition issues. I have been to about six or seven primary states this year already, states that have made transitions to new voting equipment. For the most part it's gone well, but there have been problems. In Carteret County, N.C., for example, 4,300 votes were lost during the 2004 presidential election because the machines were incorrectly programmed. I visited this year hoping things would go smoother, but they didn't.

Doesn't that show that these systems have weaknesses?
I am not aware of any instance of someone hacking into a system to change an outcome. I am, however, aware of machines breaking down, batteries going dead, machines not being programmed correctly—and all of that can be traced back to human error. Many people have concerns about e-voting and have urged caution. I appreciate their advocacy, but I don't agree that these systems are unsafe. These systems are just as safe, if not better, than the old systems. And they certainly provide more accessibility for voters because they have multi-language capabilities, and special functions for the blind and disabled.

So how do you prevent human error?
It comes down to process. You have to secure these systems from beginning to end to make sure that no one with a malicious intent has access to them. We are trying to provide a federal focus by offering materials such as our "Voluntary Voting System Guidelines," which received 6,000 comments from the public on its first draft in 2002. Those standards have been upgraded, though they're still not perfect. We've also put together our "Quick Start" guide, which lists some common-sense reminders for election officials, and we've shared it with all the election officials in the country. More guidelines will be coming out over the next year. Many people have criticized HAVA for creating voluntary guidelines after funds were distributed and, in many cases, spent. Do you feel legislators could have done a better job?
I think HAVA addressed these issues in an appropriate way. It set error rates for voting systems, and audit requirements, and then directed the EAC to come up with guidelines to address these issues. There has been more election reform in the past six years than in the previous 200, and I think the elections process is more transparent today than ever before. Election officials are opening up the process to voters, and that helps to build trust and confidence. That's good for democracy.