Saturday, May 14, 2005

AccuPoll Has VVPAT and Federal Certification

AccuPoll is an election machine manufacturer that has been getting largely favorable attention in the election reform community. AccuPoll only recently made my radar after the circulation of the new Voter Confidence Resolution attracted a reply from Brett of Velvet Revolution (and then again in this thread at Democratic Underground). Finally making time for my over-due diligence, some of the more interesting results of my search are below.

AccuPoll made big news this past Wednesday:
TUSTIN, Calif. May 11, 2005. -- AccuPoll, Inc. (OCTBB: ACUP), a developer of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems, today announced receipt of certification under the 2002 Federal Election Commission Voting System Standards. As a result, AccuPoll becomes the first vendor of an end-to-end voting system featuring a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) to be certified under the more stringent 2002 standards.


The newly certified AccuPoll voting system, previously code-named Balboa, will now be known as Version 2.5. Version 2.5 includes new features such as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), electronic VVPAT audio review, early voting support, encrypted election results as well as additional enhanced security features. AccuPoll thus becomes one of the most feature-rich and transparent election systems available to election officials across the country.
This article from last July announces AccuPoll's certification in West Virginia.
"With the latest addition of West Virginia to our list of state certifications, we are now able to sell our equipment to roughly one third of the states across the country," said Dennis Vadura, CEO of AccuPoll.
Last month AccuPoll was certified by the state of Louisiana. Notice how this piece, like the one directly above, does not explicitly say how many states have approved AccuPoll:
TUSTIN, Calif. — AccuPoll Inc., a developer of Direct Recording Electronic voting systems, announced in a news release the receipt of state certification for its voting system in the state of Louisiana. The designation marks yet another state where AccuPoll's electronic voting system featuring a voter-verified paper audit trail is now available.
Given what an inside look we've recently been able to get at Open Voting Consortium's open source electronic voting system, I thought for sure I could get good details on how AccuPoll counts votes. What I've seen talks about printing a paper ballot for the voter to review before dropping the ballot in a box. The electronic record can later be compared with the paper record but I see no explanation of how the paper is counted. Such info may be available but I didn't find it.

Instead I found this page at devoted entirely to AccuPoll. It contains links to four cartoonish documents purporting to be serious, none of which satisfies my curiosity. I was similarly stymied by this PowerPoint presentation created for a voting technology conference at M.I.T. on October 1, 2004. And the bulk of the AccuPoll website itself revolves around the Corporate Profile, Management Team and Investor Relations. Run Rudolph Run.

This point has been included in some form in every version of the Voter Confidence Resolution over the past 13 months: the results yielded by corporate owned election machines can directly help or hurt the manufacturer's ability to provide stockholders with a return on investment, thus demonstrating an inherent conflict of interest in allowing corporate ownership of election machines. What would be better is keeping all election methods (not necessarily machines!) owned and operated entirely in the public domain.

Finally, I am confused about AccuPoll's position on open source code. This page and this .pdf, both found on AccuPoll's site, both say open source is in use. On January 13, 2003, seemingly several lifetimes ago, Insight Magazine published "High Tech Voting Raises Questions":
[AccuPoll CEO Dennis] Vadura supports keeping the codes proprietary. From a business standpoint, he explains, typically the goal of the software company is to keep the code it developed a trade secret. "I don't want my competitor to see it because I might have certain abilities or techniques that we implemented in our code that give us a competitive advantage." But he adds, "You have to balance that [business need] with [the question], 'How can people trust it?'"

Vadura says he understands calls for making the software freely available to the public. But even a publicly owned firm such as AccuPoll would be reluctant openly to relinquish its code, because of profit responsibilities to its stockholders.
When I said there was an inherent conflict of interest for corporations to make elections machines, I meant it in the legal prima facie sense that this is self-evident and obvious at first appearance. Vadura's quote may be over two years old but I don't think the statute of limitations can really run out on putting your foot in your mouth. That can come back around to kick you in the ass anytime.



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