fb tracking

Groups Offer to Deliver 50,000 Comments That Election Assistance Commission Staff Didn’t Allow Decision-Makers to See

 Departing Agency Staff Did Not Disclose Majority of Public Comments on Voting System Guidelines

Groups Offer to Deliver 50,000 Comments That Election Assistance Commission Staff Didn’t Allow Decision-Makers to See

 Departing Agency Staff Did Not Disclose Majority of Public Comments on Voting System Guidelines

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – A U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) committee – which is considering allowing the next generation of federally certified voting machines to be connected to the internet, an unsafe practice – should reconsider the issue because it hasn’t seen all relevant public comments, Public Citizen, Secure Elections Network and SMART Elections said in a letter sent today to the committee. The groups also offered to deliver more than 50,000 comments.

At its Sept. 19 and 20 meeting, the committee seemed to be leaning against a ban on wireless and internet connectivity in voting systems but didn’t take a formal vote. Committee members asked repeatedly to see a small group of the public comments, but the EAC executive director and counsel repeatedly denied that request. In fact, the committee was not allowed to see more than 50,000 comments from people across the country pushing to ensure that the guidelines call for no wireless or internet access in voting machines.

Instead, a staff member presented a couple of PowerPoint slides summarizing 2,800 comments – but not the comments themselves. The staffer didn’t tell the committee how many total comments were submitted and how many were submitted in favor or against a particular policy, with one exception: The committee was told that 93% of the comments supported “Data Protection (ban wireless); require hand-marked paper ballots.”

But comments submitted by at least 50,000 people were specifically focused on banning wireless separately from the legitimate call for hand-marked paper ballots. The EAC staff’s minimal reporting on what was in the public comments did not accurately reflect either the number or the detailed content of the comments that were submitted.

That’s why today, the three groups submitted 1,465 unique comments gathered by a larger coalition and offered to provide all comments they had submitted to the EAC last June.

It is widely recognized that one of the best ways to protect machines from manipulation is to make sure they can’t connect to the internet. The committee has not yet made its final recommendations.

The EAC is responsible for approving the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), which set the standards for most voting machines in use in the United States. The Technical Guidelines Development Committee (the committee in question) assists the EAC in developing the VVSG in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The committee is composed of election officials, disability experts, technology experts and other key election stakeholders. The committee is finalizing a long overdue update to voting system guidelines.

At the Sept. 19 meeting, committee member Judd Choate asked, “Are you saying that the public comments aren’t public?” The counsel responded, “That’s correct.” (Verbatim of Sept. 19-20 meeting.) A small sampling of comments was posted on the EAC website.

Comments were requested by and submitted to the EAC on the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines version 2.0 between February and June 2019. Groups across the political spectrum from Common Cause to FreedomWorks to National Election Defense Coalition encouraged their supporters to send in comments calling for a ban on wireless and internet connectivity in voting machines. These groups sent in letters of concern this week as well.

The EAC was overwhelmed with the response and reportedly shut down the email address accepting comments without disclosing it for several days. Because of this, the agency agreed to extend the comment period by two weeks. Ultimately, a form replaced the email address and the agency continued to accept comments by mail. The Secure Our Vote Coalition, Public Citizen, National Election Defense Coalition, People For the American Way, Common Cause, FreedomWorks, DailyKos, the Secure Voting Network, SMART Elections and other groups submitted more than 50,000 comments to the EAC by mail and copies by email to ensure all the comments were received.

“It’s outrageous that public servants tasked with protecting our elections would ask for public comment, only to hide and refuse to share comments with decision-makers,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign and a member of the Secure Our Vote Coalition. “I strongly encourage the Technical Guidelines Development Committee to revisit the need to ban wireless in voting machines, given this revelation.”

Due to a decision predating the Sept. 19 meeting, the current EAC executive director and counsel who decided not to share the public comments before the vote will not be continuing in leadership at the EAC after this month.