Uncertainty on security, standards and requirements for voting machines caused many jurisdictions to return to older but reliable optical-scan ballot readers (pictured).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last  week released its "Open and Transparent Methods for Testing Electronic Voting Machines." NIST -- a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce -- is accepting public comments on the guidelines until July 1.

"The new tests will replace multiple proprietary laboratory testing techniques," said NIST on its Web site, "with a single transparent set of tests that will help give voters and governments confidence that the systems operate in a reliable fashion. Manufacturers also will have a better understanding of how their systems must perform to comply with federal standards."

"These new tests will ensure that everyone is on the same page for testing electronic voting systems," said Lynne Rosenthal, manager of the NIST voting project in a statement. "This will not only benefit the general public and the government, but also they will help manufacturers build voting systems that meet federal standards."

Voting machine accuracy and security has been challenged in recent years, most notably by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Colorado, New Jersey, Ohio and other states also pulled back from automated voting, with many states requiring a voter certified paper trail. These doubts impacted local jurisdictions which, in some cases, had purchased electronic voting equipment and then needed to reverse course to paper or optical-scan systems.

Wayne Hanson  |  Senior Executive Editor, Center For Digital Government