Federal Voting Systems Standards and Guidelines: Congressional Deliberations

RS21156 -- Federal Voting Systems Standards and Guidelines: Congressional Deliberations

Updated August 24, 2005


This report discusses deliberations and issues relating to the Federal Election Commission's (FEC) Voluntary Voting System Standards (VSS) and their replacement, the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG). States, not the federal government, regulate the voting technologies they use. However, in response to concerns raised in the 1970s and 1980s about the then largely unregulated voting technology industry, Congress funded development by the FEC of voluntary standards for computer-based voting systems but did not establish them specifically by statute. Legislation directing the FEC to perform a study on the VSS was enacted in 1979. The study was released in 1984. The VSS themselves were approved in 1990. They were developed for both hardware and software and included functional and documentation requirements, performance characteristics, and testing procedures. A certification program was established in 1994 by National Association of State Election Directors (NASED). It used independent testing authorities (ITAs) to evaluate hardware and software. Most states have adopted the VSS in whole or in part. Some may nevertheless have older voting systems in use that have not been certified, such as paper ballots, lever machines, and some older computer-based systems. An update of the VSS was completed in 2002. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA, P.L. 107-252) codified the standards, now called guidelines, and provides a mechanism for regular updating of them by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) established by the act. The EAC is also responsible for administering voluntary certification of voting systems by independent testing laboratories, replacing the NASED program. HAVA also gives the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) a substantial advisory role in the development of the VVSG and accreditation of testing laboratories. This report will be updated in response to relevant events. See also CRS Report RS20898, Elections Reform: Overview and Issues.