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VVSG Background

VVSG Background

This section contains background summary information on the VVSG, including the legislation responsible for its writing and a history of previous versions of the VVSG.


Earlier NIST Involvement

In 1974, the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) began a research project under computer scientist Roy G. Saltman, funded by the Office of Federal Elections of the General Accounting Office.  This project resulted in a 1975 NBS Interagency Report, later reprinted as SP 500-30, Effective Use of Computing Technology in Vote-Tallying.  The report provided findings and conclusions about improving the accuracy and security of the vote-tallying process, about improving the management of the election preparation process, and about institutional factors affecting accuracy and security.  The report also pointed out the lack of systematic research on election equipment and systems, and on human engineering of voting equipment, and it concluded that the setting of national minimum standards for federal election procedures would serve a valuable function.


The 1990 VSS

In 1984, Congress appropriated funds for the FEC to develop voluntary national standards for computer-based voting systems.  The FEC formally approved the Performance and Test Standards for Punchcard, Marksense and Direct Recording Electronic Voting Systems in January 1990, which became known as the 1990 Voting Systems Standard (VSS).

The national testing effort was developed and overseen by the National Association of State Election Director's Voting Systems Board, which is composed of election officials and independent technical advisors.  NASED's testing program was initiated in 1994 and more than 30 voting systems or components of voting systems have gone through the NASED testing and qualification process.  In addition, many systems have subsequently been certified at the state level using the Standards in conjunction with functional and technical requirements developed by state and local policymakers to address the specific needs of their jurisdictions.


The 2002 VSS

As the qualification process matured and qualified systems were used in the field, the Voting Systems Board, in consultation with the testing labs, identified certain testing issues that needed to be resolved.  Moreover, rapid advancements in information and personal computer technologies introduced new voting system development and implementation scenarios not contemplated by the 1990 VSS. 

In 1997, NASED briefed the FEC on the necessity for continued Commission involvement, citing the importance of keeping the Standards current in its reflection of modern and emerging technologies employed by voting system manufacturers.  Following a Requirements Analysis released in 1999, the Commission authorized the Office of Election Administration to revise the Standards to reflect contemporary needs of the elections community.  This resulted in the 2002 Voting System Standards, or 2002 VSS.


HAVA and VVSG 2005

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) [HAVA02], which created a new process for improving voluntary voting system guidelines.  A new federal entity was created, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), to oversee the process. The EAC established the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) in accordance with the requirements of Section 221 of HAVA pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. App. 2.  The objectives and duties were to act in the public interest to assist the EAC in the development of the voluntary voting system guidelines.  The membership, as defined by HAVA, includes:

  • The Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who shall serve as its chair,
  • Members of the EAC Standards Board,
  • Members of the EAC Board of Advisors,
  • Members of the Architectural and Transportation Barrier, and Compliance Board (U.S. Access Board),
  • A representative of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI),
  • A representative of the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE),
  • Two representatives of the NASED selected by such Association who are not members of the Standards Board or Board of Advisors, and who are not of the same political party, and
  • Other individuals with technical and scientific expertise relating to voting systems and voting equipment.   

The TGDC first met in July 2004 and delivered its initial set of recommendations to the EAC in April 2005.  Operating as a Federal Advisory Committee, the TGDC formed three working subcommittees:

  • Security and Transparency (STS),
  • Human Factors and Privacy (HFP), and
  • Core Requirements and Testing (CRT).

The three subcommittees in collaboration with NIST recommended requirements for adoption by the full Committee at public plenary sessions. The TGDC's initial set of recommendations, VVSG 2005, augmented the VSS 2002 by including security measures for auditability, wireless communications and software distribution and set up, and improvements for the accessibility guidelines and usability design guidelines for voting systems. 

The TGDC also recommended that the VVSG 2005 be replaced with a far-reaching guideline that would address in-depth security, performance-based guidelines for usability testing and an overhaul of the standards and test methods to meet today's more rigorous needs for electronic voting systems.  This new VVSG, applied to the next generation of voting equipment, addresses those needs.


Relationship of HAVA and the VVSG

Although both HAVA and the VVSG contain requirements, the scope and application are quite different in the two cases.  HAVA is a Federal law that, among other things, provides to the states financial aid for the purchase of new voting equipment. In section 301 it also sets forth broad functional standards for voting systems as used in Federal elections. That is, it governs the systems as actually deployed in polling places throughout the country. Violation of these standards may result in adverse action by the Department of Justice against a State or other voting jurisdiction. The standards encompass procedures as well as equipment, e.g. the requirement that each state adopt a uniform definition of a "vote".

The VVSG is a set of highly detailed technical requirements in support of the broad goals of HAVA. These requirements apply only to voting equipment, not to procedures in the polling place. If a type of voting system (i.e. a particular make and model) meets all of the VVSG requirements (as determined by conformance testing conducted by an accredited laboratory), then that type is eligible to be certified as being compliant with the VVSG. Thus the VVSG is addressed to vendors of voting equipment, not to states. Finally, although many states will purchase only equipment that has been certified, the guidelines are voluntary in that states are free to purchase and use non-certified systems, as long as they comply with the HAVA standards.


Table 1: HAVA and the VVSG





Federal Law

Federal Guidelines


Voting Systems and Procedures

Voting Equipment

Primary Audience


Equipment Vendors


Dept of Justice


Phase of Life-cycle


Conformance Testing

Level of Specification



Created September 28, 2010, Updated May 25, 2017