Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Diebold TSx rejection and its impact on California counties

Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's decision last week to reject Diebold's TSx electronic voting system has prompted many to wonder what California counties plan to do for the November statewide special election and next year's statewide primary and general elections. The Voting Modernization Board recently published a report on all the counties' plans to modernize equipment in order to meet federal accessibility deadlines. As the VMB's report shows, many counties using Diebold's paper, optical scan voting system were planning to acquire one electronic voting machine per polling place to comply with the federal accessibility requirement. Other counties, such as Kern, San Diego and San Joaquin, have thousands of TSx machines sitting in warehouses that will remain unused for the time being.

KXTV in Sacramento reported that San Joaquin county has already paid $858,000 to Diebold for its TSx machine. San Joaquin's entire purchase price was $5.7 million, according to this story by Greg Kane in Saturday's Stockton Record. California's rejection of the TSx has had an impact in at least one other state. According to this story in the Salt Lake Tribune, some voting reform activists in Utah are insisting the state not move forward with its plans to spend $27 million on Diebold equipment.

Excerpts from the Stockton Record article are below.


San Joaquin County voters will cast votes on paper ballots in November's special election while more than 1,600 touchscreen voting machines remain packed away in a Stockton warehouse.

The decision came Thursday after state elections officials ruled the ATM-like machines -- which cost taxpayers $5.7 million when purchased in 2002 -- wouldn't be certified in time for the election. The touchscreen systems haven't been used since the March 2004 primary, when equipment problems in San Diego and Alameda counties led the state to outlaw their use.

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson told Diebold Election Systems Inc. in a letter Wednesday that its TSx system had problems with paper jams and is vulnerable to freezing. He went on to deny the company's request to certify the machines but left open the option to reapply.

San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Deborah Hench said Thursday the state's decision leaves the county with no choice but to use paper ballots. Planning for the election has to begin within a few weeks.

"They're not going to certify the TSx until Diebold comes back and corrects the problem," Hench said.

Diebold representatives didn't return calls to The Record on Friday.

San Joaquin County purchased 1,625 TSx systems at $3,200 a pop three years ago. San Joaquin County never had problems with the machines, Hench said.


State elections officials were in Stockton last week to test nearly 100 machines fitted with the modified printers, Hench said. About 10 percent of the systems experienced paper jams.

McPherson's letter also describes a "recurring problem" in which the machines freeze and need to be rebooted. Kim Alexander, president and founder of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, said Thursday such a glitch might signal a larger problem with the equipment.

"They're going to have to do more than just tinker around with the printer to address the concerns that were brought by the secretary of state," Alexander said.

Voters using the TSx systems can cast ballots digitally by pressing their choice on an on-screen display. With paper ballots, voters fill ovals with either a No. 2 pencil or dark pen.

Diebold will pay back what the county spends on paper ballots, Hench said.

The electronic system makes the county's job of running the election far simpler, Hench said. Election officers require less training, and ballots are easier to track and count.

Critics of the touchscreen systems say they're vulnerable to hackers, software problems and losing votes. Alexander believes there are many security holes in the machines that must be addressed before they're allowed back into voting booths.

"I've felt for a long time that we rushed into electronic voting without fully taking into consideration the risks," Alexander said. "Those risks are now painfully apparent."

Hench thinks it's a matter of time before the state certifies the TSx machines. She believes the state and Diebold will find a way to get the machines ready for the June 2006 election.

"It's in all our best interest to get this worked out," Hench said. "We'll see it next year."

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