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NIST and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA)

What is the Help America Vote Act?

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 (Public Law 107-252) was passed by Congress "to establish a program to provide funds to States to replace punch card voting systems, to establish the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to assist in the administration of Federal elections and to otherwise provide assistance with the administration of certain Federal election laws and programs, to establish minimum election administration standards for States and units of local government with responsibility for the administration of Federal elections, and for other purposes."

What are NIST's roles under HAVA?

HAVA established the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) to assist the EAC with the development of voluntary voting system guidelines. HAVA directs the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to chair the TGDC and to provide technical support to the TGDC in the development of these voluntary guidelines.

In addition HAVA directs NIST to conduct an evaluation of independent non-Federal laboratories to carry out the testing of voting systems and to submit recommendations of qualified laboratories to the EAC for accreditation. HAVA also charges NIST with monitoring and reviewing laboratories accredited by the EAC.

Who regulates election activities?

The EAC, not NIST, regulates election activities.

NIST is a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce that advances measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life. More information on the NIST is available at:

The EAC is an independent bipartisan agency charged with disbursing payments to states for replacement of voting systems and election administration improvements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse and resource of information regarding election administration. The EAC also accredits testing laboratories and certifies voting systems, as well as audits the use of HAVA funds. In addition to the TGDC, HAVA mandated the creation of two additional Committees, the Standards Board and Board of Advisors, to advise the EAC. More information on the EAC and their advisory committees is available at:

Who is on the TGDC?

HAVA specifies that the TGDC should be comprised of 15 individuals, including the Director of NIST as the committee's chair. Several organizations appoint members, including the EAC's Standards Board and Board of Advisors, the Architectural and Transportation Barrier Compliance Board, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED). The current membership of the TGDC can be found a the EAC's website at:

Has the TGDC recommended voluntary standards for voting systems in accordance with HAVA?

Yes. HAVA mandated that the first set of recommendations be written and delivered to the EAC nine months after the final approval of all TGDC members, which occurred in August 2004. To meet this very aggressive schedule, the TGDC organized into 3 working subcommittees addressing the following areas of voting standards: core requirements and testing, human factors and privacy, and security and transparency. Over nine months, NIST scientists and the TGDC conducted workshops, meetings, and numerous teleconferences to gather input, pass resolutions, and review and approve NIST-authored material. This was done in a fully transparent process, with meetings conducted in public and draft materials available over the web. TGDC meeting transcripts and all VVSG development documents are available at:  The VVSG 2005 recommendations were delivered on schedule to the EAC in May 2005.

How does the VVSG 2005 differ from previous voting system standards?

The VVSG 2005 built upon the strengths of the previous 2002 Voting Systems Standards by enhancing areas needing improvement and by adding new material. The new material adds more formalism and precision to the requirements, using constructs and language commonly used in rigorous, well-specified standards. This includes rules for determining conformance to the standard and a glossary for clarifying terms, which is very important when one considers that each voting jurisdiction may define terms differently.

The new material focuses primarily on usability, accessibility, and security. The usability section includes requirements for voting system controls, displays, font sizes, lighting, and response times. It also requires voting systems to alert voters who make errors such as over-voting so as to reduce the overall number of spoiled ballots.  The new section on security includes the first Federal standard for Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT). Many states require that their voting systems include a voter verified paper trail. The VVSG 2005 takes no position regarding the implementation of VVPAT and neither requires nor endorses them. The VVPAT requirements help to ensure that VVPAT systems, in states that choose to implement them, are reliable, secure, usable and accessible. Additional information on the VVSG 2005 is available at:

Have the VVSG 2005 Recommendations been adopted by the EAC?

Yes. The TGDC-approved version of the VVSG 2005 was delivered to the EAC in May 2005. Subsequently, the EAC conducted a 90-day public review and received thousands of comments; NIST provided technical assistance to the EAC in addressing these comments. The EAC published the final VVSG 2005 on December 13, 2005. This EAC-adopted version included changes to the TGDC-approved version, reflecting the EAC's additional review. The final VVSG 2005 document is accessible on line at:

Has the TGDC provided additional VVSG Recommendations to the EAC?

Yes. Immediately after completing its work on the VVSG 2005, the TGDC, with technical support from NIST, began work on the next iteration of the VVSG. The TGDC and NIST completed new recommendations for the next generation of voting systems in August 2007.

The August 2007 VVSG Recommendations builds upon the VVSG 2005 and takes a fresh look at many of the requirements. It is a larger, more comprehensive standard, with more thorough treatments of security areas and requirements for equipment integrity and reliability. In the August 2007 VVSG Recommendations,  the TGDC included updated VVSG requirements for usability based on performance benchmarks; updated requirements for documentation and data to be provided to testing laboratories; and updated requirements for testing laboratory reports on voting equipment. The requirements are structured so as to improve their clarity to vendors and their testability by testing laboratories. A copy of the August 2007 VVSG Recommendations is posted at: For the latest information regarding the VVSG, visit EAC's website:

Are there additional resources to assist election officials and the public in understanding the next VVSG Recommendations?

Yes. NIST scientists have written a companion document to the VVSG that summarizes major topics from the August 2007 VVSG Recommendations to the EAC. While the August 2007 VVSG Recommendations are constructed primarily as a technical reference for voting system manufacturers and voting system test labs, the VVSG Companion Document is intended to be accessible to all audiences.

Has NIST evaluated and recommended testing laboratories to the EAC for accreditation?

Yes. NIST's National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) has delivered five recommendations to the EAC of laboratories that are competent to serve as voting systems testing laboratories based on international standards for testing and calibration laboratories. For the current list of EAC accredited laboratories, visit EAC's list of Accredited Test Laboratories. These laboratories are currently undergoing follow up assessments to ensure continued compliance with accreditation criteria. All NVLAP documents related to the testing laboratory assessment process are publicly available at:

Does NIST certify voting systems or accredit laboratories?

No. HAVA mandates that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) assume federal responsibility for accrediting voting system test laboratories and certifying voting equipment.

How do I learn more?

For information on the VVSG development process, see our website at

For information on the Test Laboratory Accreditation Program, see the EAC web site at:


Created May 21, 2009, Updated March 15, 2021