New Guidelines Proposed for US Voting Systems
By Whitney Quesenbery
Whitney is a user research and usability consultant. She's also a past-president of UPA, an appointed member of the TGDC (and chair of the subcommittee on Human Factors and Privacy), and represents UPA on the Access Board advisory committee working to refresh the US "Section 508" accessibility regulations.
On October 31, 2007, the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) launched the first of two public comment periods on the draft voluntary voting system guidelines (VVSG) prepared by EAC's Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC).
This version is the result of nearly two years' work by the TGDC. The draft guidelines are a complete re-write of the current VVSG 2005, addressing the next generation of voting systems. This draft contains new and expanded material in the areas of reliability and quality, usability and accessibility, security and testing. You can read the guidelines and submit comments at the EAC website. 
In a significant improvement in voting system security, the guidelines require software independence for all voting systems. According to the TGDC draft guidelines, software independence can be achieved through the use of independent voter verifiable records (IVVR). 
The Usability, Accessibility, and Privacy chapter  also includes new performance requirements, tested through the Voter Performance Protocol.
"Usability is defined generally as a measure of the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction achieved by a specified set of users with a given product in the performance of specified tasks. In the context of voting, the primary user is the voterů
"Additional requirements for task performance are independence and privacy: the voter should normally be able to complete the voting task without assistance from others, and the votes should be private. Lack of independence or privacy may adversely affect effectiveness (e.g., by possibly inhibiting the voter's free choice) and efficiency (e.g., by slowing down the process).
"General usability is covered by both high-level performance-based requirements (in this section) and design requirements (in following sections). Whereas the latter require the presence of specific features generally thought to promote usability, the former directly address metrics for effectiveness (e.g., correct capture of voter selections), efficiency (e.g., time taken to vote), and satisfaction. The voting system is tested by having groups of people (representing voters) attempt to perform various typical voting tasks. The requirement is met only if those tasks are accomplished with a specified degree of success." [Section 3.2.1]
This may be the first time a standard has included detailed performance benchmarks, and created a specific usability test protocol with required benchmark values for conformance. The draft VVSG defines three benchmarks for accuracy (effectiveness):
A system must achieve passing values for each of these benchmarks to be certified for use. The Voter Performance Protocol also measures efficiency and confidence (satisfaction). These measures are reported, but not used to determine conformance to the guidelines. The TGDC felt that although these values are important (for example, election officials might consider them when comparing different systems), they should not be used to fail a system. A new interaction design, for example, might improve accuracy, but add to the time-on-task. You can find complete details about the Voter Performance Protocol and how it was developed in a white paper, "Usability Performance Benchmarks for the VVSG." 
Several UPA members participated in creating these guidelines:
The Road to Adoption
Any new regulation must go through public comment before it is adopted, and the VVSG will have two public review periods. In between, according to an EAC press release, "We will review each and every comment that is submitted," and may revise the guidelines based on public input. The EAC will also hold public meetings to discuss the proposed guidelines and allow public input and involvement. The full process to the adoption of the new guidelines is:
 Human Factors and Privacy Subcommittee of the TGDC, "Usability Performance Benchmarks for the VVSG," August 2007. Available from http://vote.nist.gov/meeting-08172007/Usability-Benchmarks-081707.pdf.
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