Activists sue federal agency over voting system guidelines

Jul 13, 2021, 1:33 PM | Updated: 8:01 pm

Key elements of the first federal technology standards for voting equipment in 15 years should be scrapped because language that would have banned the devices from connecting to the internet was dropped after private meetings held with manufacturers, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit against the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., claims those meetings should have been open and that changes to the draft standards should have been shared with the commission’s advisory and standards boards. The lawsuit seeks to have those changes set aside.

The standards, approved in February, did not include draft language that would have banned wireless technology from voting equipment under federal certification guidelines. Voting security experts say the machines will be vulnerable to hacking without such a ban.

While the commission’s certification guidelines are voluntary, multiple states use them to set mandatory requirements for voting equipment.

Federal law requires the agency to develop its guidelines for voting systems in public, said Susan Greenhalgh of the nonprofit Free Speech for People, the group that brought the lawsuit along with University of California, Berkeley computer scientist Philip Stark, who sits on the commission’s advisory board.

Greenhalgh said that was not done ahead of the February vote by commissioners to ratify what had been draft standards.

“Instead, the EAC brazenly flouted its legal obligation to adhere to a transparent process, choosing instead to invite the manufacturers into private meetings so they could alter the voting system standards to ease requirements and benefit the manufacturers,” she said.

Agency leaders have defended the standards, saying the features that allow voting machines to connect to the internet must be disabled under the new rules. They also said previously that a ban on having wireless hardware in voting machines would force vendors to use more expensive, custom-built hardware, a step that could hurt competition in the industry.

An email to an agency official seeking a response to the lawsuit was not immediately returned.

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Activists sue federal agency over voting system guidelines