Frequently Asked Questions

Following is a list of frequently asked questions (and answers) about the P1622 common data format (CDF) project and issues related to it. The following questions are addressed:

Q: What is IEEE Working Group P1622?

IEEE Working Group P1622 was formed to produce a comprehensive CDF standard for election equipment. Members participate in teleconferences, meetings, and use e-mail correspondence to systematically analyze current elections operations and produce CDF standards. The Election Assistance Commission's (EAC) Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) will, in a future update, require use of the CDF by election equipment manufacturers, thus IEEE is making the CDF standards freely available to the public. P1622 has published an initial standard for data elements to assist in blank ballot distribution, see also a summary flyer.

P1622 has active participation from most if not all major U.S. manufacturers and some international, as well as voting system test labs accredited to do federal and state certification of voting systems. Various local and U.S. state election officials and representatives from the U.S. government are involved, as well as independent contractors and election experts/analysts. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is supporting the operations of P1622 as part of its role in voting standards under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA).

Q: What is a Common Data Format (CDF)?

Election equipment deals primarily with election data - data about voters, candidates, contests, ballots, and results. A voting system is made up of many different devices, including databases, electronic pollbooks for checking voters into the polls, touch screen devices for electronic voting, optical scanners for scanning marked ballots, and election management systems used also for tabulation of votes. A CDF is simply a format that is capable of describing election data and that can be used efficiently when importing and exporting election data among the various election equipment. P1622's common data format uses XML, the eXtensible Markup Language, which is used commonly throughout IT and in some voting equipment already. The data is encoded with XML tags that describe the data, e.g.,

  <ContestName>
     2012 Presidential, State of West Virginia
     <Candidate>
          <CandidateName>John J. Jones</CandidateName>
          <Affiliation>Democrat</Affiliation>
     </Candidate>
  <ContestName>

Q: Why is a CDF needed?

Today's election equipment generally uses propriatary data formats, thus a device from one manufacturer will not "talk" directly to another device from another manufacturer. To transmit voter data from, say, a database to an election management system, the data may have to be exported into an intermediate format such as a "flat file," and software may have to be used to reformat the file into a format that the election management system can read. Software needs to be built to transform one format to another, and because many systems are generally involved, this has the effect of "locking" states and counties into using the same configuration of equipment they have invested in, because it's too much trouble and expense to move to something newer or more desirable and appropriate. A common data format would change all of this and lead to interoperability among devices and manufacturers. See also an earlier paper on the need for a common data format.

Q: Why is a CDF needed especially for newer election equipment?

A CDF is an enabling technology for election operations involving use of COTS devices and non-polling place equipment for interacting with voters and, without it, newer technologies are much more difficult to interface. With a CDF, electronic voting devices become easier to use, test, analyze, secure, and ultimately, trust that they are functioning correctly. This is increasingly important given that states are starting to use on-line blank ballot distribution systems or COTS devices such as tablet technology to provide mobile delivery of blank ballots. Use of COTS devices demands a common format for data that integrates well with common IT standards and development methods.

Q: Does the CDF work include security issues in voting?

No. P1622's scope is strictly limited to a common data format of election data, which is a foundational "building block" of election equipment. It is therefore necessarily independent of and cannot address election data usage or election policy or security issues in voting related to, e.g., voter registration or on-line voting.

However, the P1622 work anticipates that voting equipment may include the capability to digitally sign and validate CDF files as a means for addressing the integrity of the file contents and establishing where the files originated from. Thus, the format includes data structures based on the W3C's digital signature work so that, for example, voting equipment could sign exported files and and voting equipment could check imported files for valid signatures and ensure file contents have not changed or that files originated from the appropriate voting equipment.

Q: Who benefits from a CDF?

Everyone does, from voters to election administrators to election equipment manufacturers to election analysts and so on. Since a CDF would allow devices to interoperate with respect to data, election officials could largely dispense with using custom software to link devices and could more easily use devices from any manufacturer supporting the CDF. A CDF may expand the market for voting equipment and permit other manufacturers, especially those who specialize in certain equipment, to enter the market and sell equipment in states where, currently, they are "locked out." Entire voting systems must be certified for use currently, but with interoperability, certifying individual devices would be possible and would make the certification process more flexible and less expensive. Because P1622 is using the OASIS EML international standard as a basis for the P1622 standards, manufacturers supporting the CDF would be able to compete more easily in a global market.

Q: Can a state or county require CDF capability now in equipment purchases or updates?

Yes. P1622 has produced a standard oriented to blank ballot distribution and has several other standards underway. P1622's format is based on OASIS EML, which is an international standard that has support from some U.S.-based manufacturers. A growing number of U.S. states have been using EML for various aspects of elections, including state-wide election results reporting. Given that future versions of the VVSG will require the P1622 format, it is a good practice to routinely require support for the P1622 format in new procurements and updates.

Q: When will the P1622 standard be complete?

Work is underway on a series of smaller "use case" standards that each address various "slices" of election data; the sum of these standards will constitute a comprehensive standard scheduled for completion in 2014. The standards are being developed in a priority order that addresses the easiest aspects first, including election results reporting and voter registration database import, and then works towards low-level data interoperability including interoperable ballot definition file formats. For each of its standards, P1622 is analyzing the election data involved, analyzing the relevant OASIS EML XML schemas, and then making changes as necessary. See the Project Plan page and Schedule for more information.

Q: What is OASIS EML?

EML is an international standard and has been used in parts of the United States for a number of years, including notably its use for statewide election results reporting by California and by Virginia as well as for other aspects of elections operations in other states. It has been used more in various parts of Europe and in Australia. It is a requirement in the Council of Europe's voting recommendations for e-voting. It is a large collection of XML schemas that address virtually every aspect of data interchange for elections operations. See the OASIS EML Technical Committee for more information.

Q: Is the P1622 format different from that of OASIS EML?

Because it is an international standard, EML is deliberately not specific to any one country's needs and it requires some simplification, update, and documentation to make it more suitable for adoption throughout the U.S. P1622 is recommending various changes to EML schemas and in some cases using new schemas to better meet U.S. election needs and improve aspects of its interoperability. P1622 is producing a comprehensive model of election data in UML (Unified Modeling Language), which will assist in generating new versions of the schemas or new versions in other data interchange formats besides XML such as YAML or JSON. P1622 is feeding its changes back into the OASIS EML standardization effort so that the two efforts may stay synchronized.

Q: My state has already been using Pew's VIP format, how is it different?

Pew's VIP (Voting Information Project) format is, like P1622's, based on XML however it is focused on assisting election officials and voters on identifying polling place locations and ballot information by using presentation techniques such as Google Maps. The VIP project is a valuable service to voters and assists election officials by providing convenient access for voters to information about elections. A major difference between the VIP and P1622 efforts is that VIP is oriented towards election data presentation for voters, whereas P1622 is mostly concerned with voting equipment interoperability and reporting. VIP can build upon P1622's format, and in the relatively few areas where there is some overlap (ballot description and polling place location), P1622 has provided a translation capability between the two formats. See Pew's VIP page for more information, and see the IEEE Standard 1622-2011 Annex B for more information on the VIP-P1622 translation capability.

Q: How do I join P1622 or get more information?

The P1622 working group has an aggressive schedule and welcomes participation from State and local election officials and staff, voting equipment manufacturers and software consultants, election analysts/experts, government officials involved in elections, and other interested parties. See the About the Group page for information and for joining P1622.