Monday, March 29, 2004

County calls out Diebold execs

By Ian Hoffman, Alameda Newspaper Group, 3/24/04

Alameda county election officials are the first in the state, and perhaps in the nation, to invoke the peformance clause of their voting equipment contract with Diebold.


After his phone inquiries to Diebold went unanswered, Alameda County Registrar of Voters Bradley J. Clark wrote a letter Monday invoking the performance clause of the county's $12.7 million contract.

He demanded Diebold deliver within 10 days a written plan to correct multiple problems, foremost of which was forcing the county to use poorly tested, uncertified voter-card encoders that broke down in 200 polling places March 2.

Diebold executives agreed to a meeting today. The company did not respond to inquiries Tuesday.

Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie shied from talk of legal action. "We're going to take this step by step," he said. "We're very serious about making sure we don't have problems like this in the future."

Clark's letter revealed a greater array of problems with Diebold equipment and ballot-printing services than the county previously has acknowledged.

The most serious and well-known -- the large-scale failure of electronic devices used to produce ballot-access cards for voters -- delayed Super Tuesday voting at 200 polling places in Alameda County and more than 560 in San Diego County. When paper ballots ran out, hundreds of voters were turned away.

Diebold officials have blamed the encoder failures on drained batteries. Yet poll workers have told the Oakland Tribune and Clark's office that they kept the encoders fully charged only to see them fail for varying periods of time on the morning of the election.

For the first time, Clark's letter suggests Alameda County also had unspecified "programming problems" in the Democratic and American Independent Party presidential primaries. The registrar did not respond immediately to inquiries Tuesday about those problems.

Clark also made note of "absentee ballot problems," a reference to a glitch in the Oct. 7 recall election that mysteriously awarded thousands of absentee votes for Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante to Southern California Socialist John Burton. A Diebold technician changed the votes based on examination of the paper ballots and scanned ballot images.

"I am sure that it was fixed because of the hand counts that we did," Clark said in a recent e-mail, "but I was not satisfied with the answers as to why it happened."

Diebold's explanations have ranged from a corrupted candidate database to a bad vote-counting server.

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