Verified Voting Blog: New Standards for Election Data

Examining election results to confirm winners and losers for very close elections can be problematic for contests that span multiple jurisdictions using different equipment and diverse data formats for reporting those results. Such differences have been a significant barrier to conducting post-election risk-limiting audits in time to change preliminary election results if necessary. To address problems caused by incompatible election reporting formats, the IEEE has developed a new standard for election results reporting (1622-2). This standard marks the culmination of over ten years of efforts by many individuals and organizations (including Verified Voting), with crucial technical staff support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In the recently completed 2014 elections, the Ohio Secretary of State’s office successfully used a draft version of the standard to report and export election results and the Associated Press Election Services used the same draft standard to import Ohio’s election results and incorporate it into their national election reporting for television, radio, and newspaper clients across the country. You are invited to weigh in: to see the proposed reporting standard and submit your comments and suggestions for improvement here.

Verified Voting has been actively working for a number of years to develop and promote adoption of national data standards for to support inter-operability, transparent reporting, and post-election audits comparing hand-eye manual counts of voter-verified records with electronic tabulation results.  In 2008 and 2009, we submitted formal comments on the draft 2007 Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines (VVSG) proposed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)’s Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC). While the draft 2007 VVSG “encourages” adoption of a standard data exchange format to facilitate interoperability between different hardware components, Verified Voting and other groups and experts urged that voting systems be required to input and output data using a common standard format for election data import, export and exchange. As we pointed out, requiring standard data exchange formats can also help facilitate another important VVSG goal — interoperability of election hardware and software components from different vendors. 

Since 2009 I have been working with NIST staff and others to revive the IEEE Project 1622 for Voting Systems Electronic Data Interchange, which had originated in 2004, and was formally reconstituted late in 2011.  Following adoption of its initial proposed standard for electronic distribution of blank ballot information (1622-1) in 2013, Project 1622 has been authorized by IEEE to become the IEEE Voting Systems Standards Committee (VSSC).  Under an expanded charter, this new VSSC has set up four Working Groups, each with its own members and goals:

1622-2  Election Results Reporting (a UML model and XML schema for election results data);
1622-3 Election Equipment Event Logging (a set of standard attributes for event logging)
1622-4 Usability and Accessibility (Guidelines for Voting Systems Usability and Accessibility)
1622-5 Election Data and Process Reference Model – (UML model and Glossary of Election Terminology)

Members of the VSSC include experts from all the major U.S. stakeholder groups, including state and local election officials, all major voting system vendors, major election data resellers (including the Associated Press and Election Data Services), academic election researchers, non-profit organizations interested in elections (PEW Project on the States, Verified Voting, etc.) and technical staff experts from the National Institutes for Standards and Technology.

When the 1622-2 first began meeting, most of its members thought it would produce a standard based on EML, the XML-based Election Markup Language, an international standard which was developed initially for Europe by an OASIS working group on election data standards. Over the past two years, however, the P1622 Working Group decided to focus instead on a higher-level abstract data model using the Unified Modeling Language (UML). This UML model can be used to automatically generate different implementations, such as XML and JSON.

Working groups 1622-4 and 1622-5 are new. They are just getting started on their projects to develop Voting Systems Usability and Accessibility Guidelines and a comprehensive Election Data and Process Reference Model, respectively.

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