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Jerseyans join U.S. voting-machine study
Panel has 9 months to develop an initial set of technical standards
Saturday, June 19, 2004
Star-Ledger Staff

Two state residents are part of a new panel with a daunting mission: Devise the first federal standards to ensure America's voting machines are secure, easy to use and accessible to the disabled.

It's a tall order. The volunteer committee has just nine months to do its work. Funding is unresolved. And its chairman already has a full plate.

The 15-member technical guidelines development committee was announced yesterday by the federal Election Assistance Commission, as mandated by the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

That law gives the appointees nine months to propose technical standards. Though that's too late for November's election, voluntary standards should guide states still striving to meet a 2006 deadline to replace old voting gear, said EAC Commissioner Paul DeGregorio.

But DeGregorio said Congress still has not approved the EAC's $10 million budget including $2.8 million for the technical committee.

The Help America Vote Act also stated the committee should be chaired by the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST Director Arden Bement will assume that advisory role, even though he already doubles as acting director of the National Science Foundation, a spokesman said.

Whitney Quesenbery and James Elekes of New Jersey also will serve on the committee.

Quesenbery, of High Bridge, is president of the Usability Professionals Association of America. Elekes, a North Plainfield resident, is a member of the U.S. Access Board, which studies access issues for the disabled.

"It's going to be a challenge, but I look forward to it," Elekes said of his new appointment. Another state resident, former N.J. Secretary of State DeForest "Buster" Soaries Jr., leads the Election Assistance Commission.

Among controversies facing the technical committee, which convenes July 9 in Washington, D.C., is security of electronic voting machines and whether "voter-verifiable" printouts are needed.

The committee includes election officials, engineers and computer scientists Brittain Williams and Ronald Rivest. Williams, a retired professor from Kennesaw State University, has tested electronic machines used in Georgia. Rivest is a cryptography expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Until now, standards for voting machines fell to an association of state election officials with no federal research money, said DeGregorio, a former Missouri election official. He said the new committee "will look at voting systems from top to bottom."

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