Monday, June 13, 2005

Diebold equipment up for California certification this week

This week, the Secretary of State's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel will hold a hearing to consider certifying a variety of Diebold voting equipment. See the meeting agenda for a complete list of all components up for certification.

However, the equipment up for certification had a variety of problems during testing, according to last Friday's story by Ian Hoffman of the Alameda Newspaper Group. The test reports featured in this article are available on the Secretary of State's Voting Systems Information page (scroll down to the June 16th VSPP meeting to find them). Excerpts from the story are below.


During tests in late April and early May, a chief feature of Diebold's new computerized voting machine — the ability to print out voters' electronic choices so they could be verified and, if needed, recounted — performed so poorly that the state's testing consultant concluded "this version is not ready for use in an election."

Assistant Secretary of State Brad Clark, a former Alameda County registrar, said Thursday that those problems have been fixed, and the Diebold system desired by county elections officials is ready for state consideration.


Diebold's first efforts to secure approval for its AccuVote TSx in California ended in public distrust of all electronic voting and consideration of criminal charges against Diebold. That's partly because Diebold officials persuaded four counties to spend more than $40 million on the TSx — and state elections officials to approve its use in the 2004 presidential primary — before the system made it through lab tests and federal approval.

Former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley rescinded the TSx approval last April, and thousands of those machines now sit in climate-controlled warehouses in San Diego, San Joaquin and Kern counties.

Solano County dropped its Diebold machines and switched to another vendor. Alameda County elections officials want to swap out 4,000 older AccuVote TS machines for the TSx, which is smaller, lighter and equipped with a printer for generating a paper record of a voter's choices for the voter to verify.

Before applying to California for approval, voting-system makers are required by state elections rules to get their machines through lab tests and federal approval, then draw up procedural and training manuals for using them. None of this was done in October 2003, and none of it was done before Diebold applied for approval again in March.

"We're going through the same kind of scenario, not only from Diebold but from the (Secretary of State's) elections division," said Jody Holder, a voting activist who unearthed reports on state tests of the new Diebold machines and e-mails between the state and Diebold through a public-records request. "You can see from the e-mails between them that they're bending over backwards."


During the late April-early May testing, the state's voting systems consultant, Steven Freeman, found that the TSx machines generally were an improvement on Diebold's earlier machines, but still had security flaws. For example, contrary to state election rules, the system was unable to allow different levels of security access to the machine's software and data, so that lower level users can perform basic functions but only administrators can change or add software. The rest of Freeman's discussion of security problems was blacked out by state lawyers.

But the bigger problems were with the paper-trail printer. Freeman reported "several persistent problems with the paper feed" that resulted in a "jam condition." The printer canister kept popping out of place, he noted.

"Attempts were made to tape the canister down but failures still occurred, and someone had to hold the canister in place," his report says.

Keith Carson, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, persuaded colleagues to have a public hearing so that Diebold and its critics could debate the merits of its voting system. Carson wants to hear what people say before investing another $5.4 million in a touchscreen voting system that the county purchased three years ago for $12 million.

"The question for me is, to what extent can we guarantee that everyone who participates in the voting process can have confidence that their vote counted," he said. "That to me is going to weigh as heavily as the dollars we have invested in a system that has been constantly in question."

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