California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson yesterday sent a letter to Diebold Election Systems, Inc., informing the company that its application for certification of its TSx voting system, with the voter verified paper trail printer attachment, has been rejected.
The Secretary of State's office has tested TSx machines several times since May. The most recent test was held last week in Stockton, where nearly one hundred TSx machines with printer attachments were set up and voted on by dozens of people over the course of the day. It was the first "real world" test of electronic voting machines that has been held in California, or anywhere else in the country to my knowledge. The testing also consisted of using a "real world" ballot, the complex California primary ballot, rather than a simple, mock ballot featuring historic names as is often used during testing.
The Stockton testing session was held after earlier tests of the TSx machines by the Secretary of State's office went poorly. During testing in May, the TSx's printer had jams, which were explained by Diebold as resulting from the company supplying a prototype, rather than a production unit.
Below is an excerpt from Secretary McPherson's July 27th letter to Diebold:
The Secretary of State, under Election Code Division 19, Chapter 3, Article 1 is entrusted with the responsibility to evaluate and certify voting systems for use in California. Specifically, EC 19205 stipulates:
The Secretary of State shall establish the specifications for and the regulations governing voting machines, voting devices, vote tabulating devices and any software used for each, including the programs and procedures for vote tabulating and testing. The criteria for establishing the specifications and regulations shall include, but not be limited to, the following:
(a) The machine or device and its software shall be suitable for the purpose for which it is intended.
(b) The system shall preserve the secrecy of the ballot.
(c) The system shall be safe from fraud or manipulation.
In the course of testing your system, my staff has noted problems with paper jamming on the AccuView printer module. Additionally, my staff has noted an additional recurring problem with the AccuVote-TSX that freezes the ballot station and requires it to be rebooted. After extensive testing, these problems remain unresolved.
Therefore, I have determined that the AccuVote-TSX ballot station with AccuView Printer Module, as currently presented for certification, is not suitable for the purpose for which it is intended. Because of this, I must reject the application for approval of this voting system that was submitted last March.
Secretary of State McPherson deserves kudos for holding Diebold to a high standard, and subjecting the company's voting equipment to rigorous, real-world testing. It's unfortunate that Diebold's printer unit is so unreliable, given that many California counties are planning to purchase this unit in time for the June 2006 primary in order to comply with federal voting accessibilty and state security requirements.
But it wasn't only the printing device that was a problem during testing. What's very troubling about the test results is that the California test showed that some of TSx screens froze up and had to be rebooted. For years we've heard stories about these kinds of problems when touchscreens are used in polling places. When these problems occur they are typically explained away by vendors and election officials as "glitches", followed by assurances that no votes were lost due to these problems. It's unknown at this time whether votes were lost in the California testing process when these screen freezes occurred. What is known is that California's new Secretary of State has drawn a bright line on voting security, which will certainly help boost California voters' confidence in our voting systems.
The Secretary of State's letter informs Diebold that he will consider "any subsequent application you may wish to make," and it's likely that Diebold will do some work on the TSx and printer unit and bring the system back before the state for certification sometime in the near future. I'm hoping the Diebold, Inc. is paying attention to this, and can give its election division a hand here. Diebold makes and installs thousands of ATM machines all over the world that produce a paper record without problem. It seems reasonable to expect the company could do the same for the voting equipment that bears its name.