Friday, April 7, 2006

CA voter reg hearing, OH SoS' Diebold stock, and a PA follow-up

Yesterday I listened to and watched Senator Debra Bowen's State Senate hearing on problems with California's voter registration system, which is rejecting a significant number of applications due to new verification rules mandated by federal laws and agreements.

There appears to be scant coverage of the hearing in today's news, but there is this report that Senator Don Perata, who heads up the California Senate, is asking the Secretary of State to change the regulations that currently govern the registration verification process.

This week I heard from Dr. Michael Shamos, Pennsylvania's longtime voting system examiner who I mentioned in last Friday's entry. Dr. Shamos contacted me to clarify my suggestion that he might have won his own bet challenging anyone to hack an electronic voting machine undetected.

The testing and subsequent flaws Dr. Shamos found were with the software used to count the votes, and not the electronic voting machine itself. In my previous entry, I had said that the problems discovered in Pennsylvania were not relevant to California, since we don't use the same kinds of electronic voting machines here. (We use Sequoia's Edge machine, while Pennsylania is looking at the Advantage).

So, not only does Dr. Shamos hacking challenge still stand, but the problems he discovered in Pennsylvania (specifically with Sequoia WinEDS software was running on an XP laptop) could have serious ramifications here in California. I don't know if California's Sequoia counties are using XP laptops to count the votes, but they are using WinEDS software in both their electronic voting and optical scan systems. The situation is similar to that faced by the Diebold counties, which are vulnerable to the risks identified by Harri Hursti and the California Voting Technology Assessment Advisory Board regardless of whether they are using optical scan or touchscreen equipment.

Speaking of Diebold....a friend sent this article over to me and I had to check the date on it a few times to make sure it wasn't an April Fools joke, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Tuesday that Ohio Secretary of State and candidate for Governor Ken Blackwell disclosed that he owned 178 shares of Diebold stock. Secretary of State Blackwell claims he didn't know he owned it and faults the folks who were managing his portfolio for failing to follow his instructions to avoid conflicts of interest. Excerpts from the article, by Sandy Theis, are featured below.

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Blackwell reports embarrassing buy of Diebold stock
Rivals pounce on controversy over accidental share purchase

Columbus -Secretary of State Ken Blackwell made an embarrassing announcement Monday: He accidentally bought stock in Diebold Inc., a voting machine maker that benefited from decisions made by his office.

In a required filing with the Ohio Ethics Commission, the GOP gubernatorial hopeful said his hefty portfolio included 178 shares of Diebold stock, which sold for a loss.

"While I was unaware of this stock in my portfolio, its mere presence may be viewed as a conflict," Blackwell wrote in a letter that accompanies his annual financial disclosure statement.

As the Blackwell camp attempted to downplay the controversy, rivals from both parties pounced.

Blackwell "has a pretty unique history with this company," said Bob Paduchik, spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro, who is also seeking the GOP nomination for governor. "This should be investigated."

Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo called the request for an investigation "absurd" and said county boards of election determine which machines to use.

In his duties as secretary of state, however, Blackwell's staff narrowed the list of companies eligible to replace Ohio's antiquated voting equipment with more modern technology. The Green-based Diebold made the cut, and a rival firm accused Blackwell of improperly favoring the Ohio company.

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LoParo maintains that Diebold's machines are safe and reliable and he described Blackwell's Diebold holdings as an honest mistake.

According to Blackwell's letter, he does not approve individual stock selections but has instructed his money managers to avoid all conflicts of interest.

"Those instructions were not followed by the new financial manager" that took over the account last year, he said. This unidentified woman bought 178 shares of Diebold at $53.67 per share in January 2005, then sold 95 of them for a loss of $15.68 per share.

On Saturday, while reviewing his annual ethics filing, Blackwell said he learned that he owned the remaining 83 shares and also sold them for a loss.

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