A Voting System Test Laboratory, or VSTL, is a federally accredited independent test laboratory that evaluates voting systems and software against guidelines to determine if they provide all of the basic functionality, accessibility, and security capabilities required of these systems.
It all started in 2002 with The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a U.S. federal law passed and signed by President Bush. The law was, in part, drafted in reaction to the controversy surrounding the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, when close to two million ballots were disqualified due to miscounts from voting machines. HAVA’s goal was to upgrade election procedures, voting machines, registrations processes and poll worker training.
HAVA also created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an independent, bipartisan organization, to assist in the administration of federal elections and establish minimum election administration standards. Now, it’s not to say the U.S. had no existing election administration or federal voting standards in place prior to HAVA. The first set of standards was created in 1990 by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and then updated in 2002, known as the 2002 Voting System Standards (VSS). However, HAVA transferred the responsibility of developing voting system standards from the FEC to the EAC and tasked the EAC with establishing the federal government’s first voting system certification program to test voting equipment against the federal standards.
In late 2005, the EAC unanimously adopted the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), which increased security requirements for voting systems and, for all intents and purposes, was a new update to the 2002 Voting System Standards. Up until 2005, voting equipment was being tested against federal standards by The National Association of State Election Directors (NASED). In 2006, after the EAC took over the task and established the VVSG, NASED terminated its voting system testing program and the EAC launched their new full testing and certification program in early 2007.
As part of this new testing program, and required by HAVA, the EAC must provide accreditation (and revocation of accreditation) to independent, non-federal laboratories qualified to test voting systems to the federal standards. Generally, the EAC only considers laboratories that have been evaluated and recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These accredited laboratories are known as Voting System Test Laboratories, or VSTLs.
SLI began its journey into the voting industry in 2001 when we became a certified Independent Test Authority (ITA) under NASED’s pioneer voting certification program. In 2006, SLI became the first test lab pre-assessed to become a VSTL under the new EAC program and received it’s official accreditation of Voting System Test Laboratory (VSTL) National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP Lab Code 200733-0) in 2007. Today, SLI Compliance remains as one of only two active VSTLs in the U.S.