Thursday, March 23, 2006

Diebold in the spotlight - again - as counties make plans for the upcoming election

This week's LA City Beat features this article by reporter and author Andrew Gumbel, highlighting Leon County, FL election supervisor Ion Sancho's courageous efforts to ensure secure voting in his county. Sancho made national news late last year when he allowed Finnish computer programmer Harri Hursti to attempt a hack of Diebold's optical scan voting system. Hursti's attempts worked, leaving Sancho and many others deeply concerned about voting system security.

The Hursti hack in Leon County was followed by a review of some of Diebold's voting system software by California's Voting System Technology Assessment Advisory Board (VSTAAB). That committee found sixteen new software problems with the Diebold software they inspected, and recommended procedures that, if carefully implemented, they said could mitigate the vulnerabilities. Secretary McPherson certified Diebold's newest voting system with conditions based on the VSTAAB report.

Meanwhile, over in San Joaquin County, Registrar of Voters and Diebold customer Debbie Hench engaged in some revisionist history this week when she told her local newspaper, the Stockton Record, in this article by Greg Kane, that "The state tested this system seven ways to Sunday. They didn't find anything wrong." Nothing could be further from the truth. While it can certainly be debated whether the conditions Secretary McPherson placed on Diebold's system are sufficient, there is no question that the conditions were imposed in the first place due to security concerns identified by the VSTAAB group.

Several Diebold counties are pulling back on their acquisition of new equipment from their current vendor. According to this article by Rebecca Bender of the Eureka Reporter, Humboldt County is now planning to use the Vote-PAD, a non-technical assistive device that Yolo county has also selected to meet the federal accessibility requirement. Up until recently, the game plan in Humboldt was to place one Diebold TSx machine per polling place to comply with the federal law. And next door, in Mendocino County, registrar of voters Marsha Wharf this week said she has consolidated her county's polling places so that more than half the voters will now reside in mail-in precincts, which will drastically reduce the number of accessible units the county needs. According to this article by Mike Adair in The Willits News, "Wharf said approximately 21,700 people in the county will be able to vote at polling places, while another 26,475 will have no other option than to mail their ballots. The 171 precincts that will vote by mail all have fewer than 250 registered voters, she added. All precincts with more than 250 people will provide polling places."

Humboldt and Mendocino are two of the eighteen counties named as defendents in the Voter Action lawsuit filed this week. But even before the lawsuit, several of the counties currently using Diebold equipment were already moving to reduce their reliance on Diebold products, and some have switched or are switching to entirely different vendors. According to documents available from the Voting Modernization Board's web site, Fresno County is switching from Diebold to ES&S, Tulare County is switching from Diebold to Sequoia, and San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties are going to use the ES&S Automark rather than the Diebold TSx to comply with the federal accessibility law.

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