Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Paper trail for e-votes would cost millions

By Ian Hoffman, The Oakland Tribune, January 29, 2005


Diebold revealed Wednesday its elections business lost more than $7 million in the last quarter of 2004, partly because of a $2 million settlement of a lawsuit with e-voting critics and the state.

Diebold chairman and CEO Walden O'Dell said he expects the elections division will make less in 2005 than originally thought because elections officials in the firm's headquarters have decided largely not to approve purchase of the machines.

Diebold shares fell 40 cents on the news.

O'Dell asked investor analysts to "be patient" and see what happens in the elections market, reminding them local and state governments still have $1 billion in federal voting-modernization money to spend.

California's oldest e-voting counties are looking to federal Help America Vote Act money to finance the addition of paper-trail printers and a swap for newer systems. But it is unclear whether state officials will approve using the federal funds for the full cost, leaving Alameda County elections officials to consider asking for at least some of the money in the next county budget.

One of Alameda's alternatives is to wait until Diebold gets a printer approved for its older machines and ships it. Those printers would cost about $2million and have a projected delivery on the eve of the June 2006 gubernatorial statewide primary.

"If we decide to upgrade to these new machines, that's going to cost more than if we just retrofit," said Alameda assistant registrar Elaine Ginnold. "But we think the state will reimburse pretty much all of that."

In time, she said, the new machines could save trucking fees of up to $156,000 per general election that the county pays for delivery of the touchscreens to its polling places. Pollworkers would haul the machines and printers themselves.

Ginnold said she still has misgivings about adding printers to the touchscreens. In a demonstration to county elections officials, Diebold's prototype printer jammed.

"We have a huge ballot and I don't see it working smoothly at all," she said. "I have lots of trepidations."

Alameda's other alternative is switching back to paper ballots, driven largely by the surging popularity of mail-in voting. The county's ranks of absentee voters exploded last year from 60,000 to more than 200,000, and Ginnold expects more than half of county voters will want to mail in their ballots within a decade.

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