Last week I attended the Midwestern Election Officials Conference (MEOC) in Kansas City. It was a fantastic gathering of engaged election officials from across the Midwest focused on practical boots on the ground info to prepare for the 2016 election season. Prior to the start of the conference I had the pleasure of meeting with the leadership and staff at the Kansas City Board of Elections. Meetings like this are the best part of my job. I get to share what the EAC is doing while seeing local election offices and hearing from those who deal with the day to day work to prepare for the election. At the MEOC conference Brian Newby of Johnson County Kansas moderated a panel with all three EAC Commissioners. During that conversation Brian asked, “What does certification do for us?” After I answered the question and had a chance to reflect on my conversation with the KC staff I realized that many election officials must be wondering the same thing.
So I would like to briefly answer that question if for no other reason than to spur a conversation about the role of certification as the EAC embarks on writing the next generation voting system standard.
The purpose of certification is to provide a baseline of performance. Election officials are natural risk assessors and mitigators. Knowingly or not they make decisions every day that are designed to minimize risk in order to allow them to cope with the unexpected that inevitably arises during an election cycle.
Certification serves to limit risk by testing the system for a baseline of functionality, accessibility and security. That way the election official knows what the system can and can’t do. That allows election officials to design processes and procedures around the known performance of the system.