The Journal News.
Firm that tests voting machines not accredited; state cites inadequacies
By Cara Matthews
(Original Publication: January 5, 2007)
ALBANY - State elections officials said yesterday they need more information about why the federal Election Assistance Commission has not accredited a voting machine-testing company before deciding how to proceed with the firm, which is also under contract with New York.
New York officials said they read in a published report this week that the Election Assistance Commission has known since last summer that there were inadequacies with the way Ciber Inc. of Greenwood Village, Colo., was performing tests on machines and documenting results.
"At the present time, until we get that report in our hands and have a chance to review it, I can't comment myself that we are fully comfortable that all of those issues have been addressed," said Peter Kosinski, co-executive director of the state Board of Elections.
But Commissioner Gracia Hillman of the Election Assistance Commission said yesterday that there is no such report. Her agency has not taken any action on Ciber's pending application for accreditation. The commission told the company it needed more information before it could act, and Ciber is in the process of providing that, she said. The federal commission recently began oversight of accreditation from an independent group, the National Association of State Election Directors.
"We haven't made any assessment as to their capability except that we wanted more information from them before we considered their application complete and ready for review," Hillman said.
The questions about Ciber are the latest glitch for New York as it tries to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act to modernize elections and make voting more accessible to disabled people. Replacements for New York's 20,000 lever machines were supposed to be in place by the 2006 elections, but the state had the date pushed back a year. The state could lose $50 million of the $222 million in federal HAVA funds because machines were not in place last year.
New York, which is scheduled to certify its machines March 29, contracted with Ciber Inc. to test how well the machines function, how secure they are from hacking and whether they can withstand certain environmental conditions. State Board of Elections officials discussed yesterday whether they could miss the deadline because of Ciber, whose contract pays a maximum of $4 million.
Douglas Kellner, co-chairman of the Board of Elections, said he thinks New York is on track to meet the March 29 date.
Some believe there won't be time to get the new machines in place for this year's elections.
Ciber spokeswoman Diane Stoner said in an e-mail that the company met all the requirements before the Election Assistance Commission took over accreditation. The EAC created new standards and policies on accreditation. Ciber's initial audit several months ago by a contractor working for the EAC "identified a few items that we have since addressed. We participated in another audit several weeks ago and are awaiting final results from the EAC," Stoner wrote.
"So, at the moment, the auditing requirements are a moving target and we are working to meet and exceed the criteria as they change and until they are finalized," she said.
The Board of Elections contracted over the summer with New York State Technology Enterprise Corp. of Rome, Oneida County, to review Ciber's test plans for voting machines. NYSTEC has been pointing out problems with Ciber's work, Kellner said.
"To some extent, some of the delays have been because NYSTEC has raised these questions and Ciber has had to take additional time to address them," he said. "And I think Ciber has been acting in good faith with us because they have been attempting to address those concerns."
A NYSTEC report from late September found Ciber's plans did not include security requirements required by law, did not specify any test methods for the majority of requirements and had other deficiencies.
"I am comfortable that Ciber is doing the tests that they're supposed to be doing, but we don't have the technical ability to evaluate that process, and that's why NYSTEC and other third parties are helpful to provide the board with that expertise to make sure that the contract is being performed properly," Kellner said.
Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters said she thinks the Ciber situation is serious enough to warrant pushing back the March deadline.
"This provides yet one more reason for there to be a postponement of any machine certification," she said. "There was very little hope that we were going to have this done by March 29 and now this seals the deal."
Voting-advocacy groups have been saying for years that the main independent voting machine-testing companies, including Ciber, have problems, said Bo Lipari, executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. Machines being tested in New York have been failing, he said.
Copyright 2006 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper serving Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties in New York.