CIBER bid for certification rejected by Election Assistance Commission, further delaying efforts
By RICK KARLIN, Capitol bureau
Thursday, June 14, 2007
ALBANY -- The company New York hired to test electronic voting machines lost its bid Wednesday to be certified to conduct the tests, further setting back the state's effort to modernize its election system.
A state official said Wednesday that it was unlikely New York would have new voting machines in place for next winter's presidential primaries.
It is unclear whether several million dollars' worth of software trials will have to be scrapped and conducted again by a new company. But the news that a major testing company wasn't certified could, ironically, have a bright side for New York and its slowest-in-the-nation modernization effort.
The latest episode in New York's struggle to replace its old lever machines centers on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which oversees voting machine testers, and its rejection of CIBER Inc.'s bid to become an accredited voting machine laboratory.
CIBER has tested the software on machines in dozens of states, including New York.
But the New York Board of Elections halted CIBER's tests in January when officials learned that the company hadn't received "interim accreditation" by the EAC. On Wednesday, the EAC said it was rejecting CIBER's application due to the company's failure to provide information to the commission.
"CIBER is no longer under consideration for interim accreditation," said EAC Chairwoman Donetta Davidson.
Company representatives didn't return a call, but others noted that the lack of accreditation could cast doubt on close elections in other states using CIBER-certified machines.
"The ramifications are very serious because what it means is that there are a whole bunch of systems out there that have a lot of vulnerabilities," said Warren Stewart, policy director for VoteTrustUSA, a national organization that is following the federal Help America Vote Act, which mandates that states update their voting machines.
Stewart said CIBER tested some 70 percent of the software for voting machines that were used in the national November 2007 elections.
While there is no clear connection to CIBER's test procedures, some states are already mulling replacement of their new voting machines due to security concerns -- a few years ago, experts showed how a new Leon County, Fla., voting machine could be hacked.
New York has no such problems since the state still uses the lever machines.
Because the state has lagged in getting new machines, however, the U.S. Department of Justice has sued it for missing deadlines.
That suit is on hold pending New York's efforts to approve new machines. The most immediate obstacle in that process may now be finding a new testing company.
The Board of Elections is reviewing bids from two other testing labs, said Stanley Zalen, the board's co-executive director. State officials hope to hire a new lab by late summer.
Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, believes the five machines that CIBER tested should probably be retested, even if it takes extra time and money.
"There is no reason for haste. We need to be methodical," said Lipari.
But Zalen said CIBER had actually done little testing.
"We have relatively little usable material" from the company, said Zalen. And whether retesting is needed or not, Zalen agreed it was increasingly unlikely the new machines would be in place in time for the state's presidential primaries, which are now set for February 5.
Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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