By Ian Hoffman, Alameda Newspaper Group, August 12, 2004
California approved three final counties Wednesday for electronic voting in November, freeing a total of 11 counties to use touch-screen machines.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley certified Alameda and Plumas counties for full use of their touch-screen machines, and Los Angeles County for early voting only, in exchange for promises that they would meet almost two dozen measures for better security and reliability.
The decision sets as much as 20 percent of California voters on course to cast digital ballots this year on machines that state officials acknowledge have security flaws.
But they and local officials say new, tested software and voluminous procedures for pollworkers have closed off the more unsettling security concerns.
"We are going to be using the electronic touch-screens," said Elaine Ginnold, assistant voter registrar in Alameda County. "We are confident that it is accurate and will record votes correctly."
In late April, Shelley temporarily disallowed e-voting statewide and triggered an uproar among local elections officials. They said he was making impossible demands and usurping their authority.
One by one, each county agreed to tighten physical security of their machines, let voters choose a paper ballot and print vote totals for every polling place, among other requirements. Voting machine-makers handed over their proprietary software for security examination.
Shelley spokeswoman Lauren Hersh called the last of the agreements with the counties "a real relief."
In a separate decision Wednesday, a panel of state elections officials and consultants recommended approval for Diebold's optical scanning software, clearing its use by 17 counties, including Alameda, which uses scanners for absentee and provisional ballots.
In the case of Diebold, the approvals clear a firm that Shelley has referred for criminal prosecution to provide the instruments of democracy for several million voters.
But a great deal has changed since last winter and spring, when state and local elections officials found evidence that Diebold had misled them and used uncertified, illegal software and poorly tested hardware in their voting systems. The most unsettling of those actions concerned Diebold's newest touch-screen, the AccuVote TSx, which Shelley permanently decertified in four counties. San Diego, Kern, San Joaquin and Solano counties now plan to use optical scanning systems, with paper ballots.
Corporate parent Diebold Inc. of Canton, Ohio, moved aside Diebold Election Systems president Bob Urosevich and replaced him with Tom Swidarski, an executive vice president at corporate parent Diebold Inc.
The company cleared testing and national and state approval for new voting and vote-tabulating software, the essence of its voting system. The new touch-screens still can be opened with a single key but no longer will have the same password ("1111") and encryption key nationwide.
California counties will be required to change those for each election, closing off some of the more egregious security holes that might have allowed vote manipulation. Counties also must conduct a scripted and videotaped test election on randomly selected machines on Election Day, to detect programming errors or touch-screen hacking.