Monday :: May 3, 2004

Frankenstein's Monster Beta v2.[X]

by pessimist
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley on Friday withdrew his approval of electronic voting machines throughout the state - a step that could force many voters to return to paper ballots in November.

Saying he is concerned about the reliability of touch-screen voting machines, Shelley on Friday decertified every model used in the state but left the door open for 10 counties to win approval prior to the November election. The ban immediately affects more than 14,000

AccuVote-TSx machines made by Diebold Election Systems, the leading touchscreen provider, and 24,000 from its three rivals. Many were used for the first time in the March primaries and suffered failures.

Shelley's action is intended to force counties and manufacturers to quickly implement nearly two dozen security measures or risk losing their franchises for the upcoming presidential election. Most of the measures ordered Friday were proposed this week by a state advisory

10 counties might be able to get approval before the November election.

Shelley's decision - which experts called the most significant setback yet in the nation's shift to computerized voting - allows 10 of 14 California counties that use electronic voting to reapply for certification if they meet 23 new security conditions. Shelley called for the registrars in the 10 counties to meet the 23 new requirements before the November election. These include offering a paper ballot to any voter who does not want to vote electronically, releasing software code to the secretary of state for evaluation, and providing training and security plans to ensure the equipment operates properly. Doug Stone, a Shelley spokesman, said the secretary of state was still developing a plan for the counties to follow to get their equipment

The 10 counties that use other electronic voting systems were sent scrambling by Shelley's decision, and some voting officials said they, like those with the banned machines, may return to paper ballots. Under Shelley's order, these 10 counties that currently have other touch-screen models potentially could use them in November, provided that security measures are implemented that include:

* Giving voters the option to use paper ballots.

* Allowing no connection to the Internet.

* Ensuring that printouts can be made of ballots cast electronically.

* Allowing state officials to participate in technical reviews of randomly chosen machines on Election Day.

* Submitting detailed documents to Shelley about testing, software and inner workings of the machines.

The 10 counties that potentially could offer touch-screen voting on Election Day are Alameda, Merced, Napa, Orange, Plumas, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Shasta and Tehama. Counties that do not currently have touch-screen machines will not be able to buy them unless there is a verifiable paper trail.

The remaining four counties - San Diego, San Joaquin, Solano and Kern - are banned from using their Diebold AccuVote-TSx touch-screen systems in November. Officials in those counties said they would probably use paper ballots in November, on which up to 2 million voters in the four counties will mark their choices in ovals to be read by optical scanners.

Registrars are surprised.

Across California, registrars of voters said they were surprised by Shelley's action, which was harsher than steps recommended by an advisory panel earlier this week. Registrars in counties that made the switch to paperless voting said Shelley’s decision to return to paper ballots would result in chaos. "There just isn’t time to bring this system up before November," Kern County Registrar Ann Barnett said. "It’s absurd."

Even those whose counties were granted permission to seek recertification said they didn't know whether they would be able to meet the new requirements in time for the November election. "At this point in time, electronic voting doesn't appear to be an option," said Scott Konopasek, San Bernardino County's registrar of voters. "This really came out of the blue today." Konopasek said he was not optimistic that he could get the voting system certified in time for the November general election. His county spent $13.8 million last year to buy 4,000 electronic voting machines that were first used during the October recall election.

Conny McCormack, registrar of voters in Los Angeles County and an advocate of touch-screen voting systems, said she thought Shelley overreacted. "I think it's a tremendous blow to voter confidence," McCormack said. "The voters love the equipment. It's been proven to be the most accurate. Now, what are they going to think around the country when they read the secretary of state in the largest state said there's a problem with the equipment?" Since 2000, Los Angeles County has set up voting machines in public places such as libraries, city halls and the Braille Institute for those who want to vote in the days before the election. But the county has delayed buying a system - McCormack said it could cost $100 million - until it can determine how other counties fare with theirs.

San Diego County, which spent more than $30 million for its AccuVote-TSx machines, has a contract that requires Diebold to provide an alternative voting system if its system is not certified by the state. "We accept the determination made by the secretary of state. The county of San Diego will rely on the secretary of state to make the difficult decisions on what equipment we may use," San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said in a statement.

In Orange County, Registrar Steve Rodermund said he planned to discuss strategy with county attorneys and the Board of Supervisors. The county used its new $26-million voting system for the first time in the March election. "I'm not sure what we do now. This has taken everybody completely by surprise," Rodermund said. "We need to make sure that, if we do comply, we in fact will be recertified."

50 million voters

At least 50 million voters nationally were expected to use the ATM-like machines from Diebold and other companies in November. California counties with 6.5 million registered voters have been at the forefront of touchscreen voting, installing more than 40 percent of the more than 100,000 machines believed to be in use nationally. California had been leading the nation's shift to electronic voting, with more than 40% of the state's voters casting ballots electronically in the March primary. Electronic voting systems started gaining favor after problems with punch-card ballots in Florida delayed the final tally of votes in the 2000 presidential election for several weeks. A number of failures involving touchscreen machines in Georgia, Maryland and California have spurred serious questioning of the technology. As currently configured, the machines lack paper records, making recounts impossible.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which has pushed for banning touch-screen voting, was encouraged by Shelley's order. "Requiring counties to provide voters with what I call the 'paper or plastic' option ensures that those voters who do not have confidence in electronic voting still have the ability to cast a vote with confidence," she said. "I anticipate his decision will have an immediate and widespread impact," said Alexander, a frequent critic of the machines. "California is turning away from e-voting equipment, and other states are sure to follow."

Activists have been demanding paper printouts - required in California by 2006 - to guard against fraud, hacking and malfunction. Diebold has been a frequent target of such groups, though most California county election officials say that problems have been overstated and that voters like the touchscreen systems first installed four years ago.

But supporters of touch-screen voting expressed doubt that Shelley's conditions are practical. "On the face, it sounds like a good thing, but I don't think it will work," said Patricia Yeager, executive director of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers.

For some, however, Shelley's action was not enough. Two state senators vowed Friday to move forward with a bill that would ban all electronic voting in the state in November. "Until there is a complete ban for November, we're going to continue to move the bill," said state Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland). "Nothing short of a ban will guarantee the public confidence and the integrity of the system."

In March, U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.) proposed a bill that would require all voting systems in the nation to produce a paper receipt as a safeguard against fraud or computer breakdown.

The decision follows the recommendations of a state advisory panel, which conducted hearings earlier this month. Made just six months before a presidential election, the decision reflects growing concern about paperless electronic voting. In Orange County, thousands of voters were issued the wrong ballots on voting machines made by Hart InterCivic. As a result, some voters cast ballots in races in which they were ineligible and were prevented from voting in races that affected them. Orange County officials later blamed the problem on inadequate training of poll workers.

Calls For An Investigation

In his announcement Friday, Shelley reserved his harshest words for Diebold Election Systems, which he said lied to his staff while obtaining conditional approval for its machines earlier this year. Shelley formally requested that state Attorney General Bill Lockyer consider taking civil and criminal action against Diebold for installing machines that were not properly certified and then lying about their status. "We will not tolerate deceitful tactics as engaged in by Diebold," Shelley said. The company, the state's leading manufacturer of touch-screen voting machines, had told the state it was nearing federal approval for AccuVote-TSx when it was nowhere close to gaining that approval, Shelley said.

The secretary of state said that action amounted to fraud. "They broke the law. Their conduct was absolutely reprehensible. Their conduct should never be tolerated from anyone doing business again with the state of California," Shelley said. Shelley banned use of the Diebold AccuVote-TSx model outright, meaning the company - unlike its competitors - cannot win recertification this year. Diebold has installed its controversial AccuVote-TSx system in San Joaquin, Solano, Kern and San Diego counties.

Shelley said doubts about the security and reliability of touch-screen voting have 'shaken public confidence.' "It is my job, my foremost responsibility, to take all steps necessary to make sure every vote cast in California will be accurately counted," Shelley said. But Shelley, at a news conference in his office, said he was deeply concerned about a host of election day problems that prevented an unknown number of voters from casting ballots in March.

A state investigation released this month said the Diebold jeopardized the outcome of the March election in California with computer glitches, last-minute changes to its AccuVote-TSx system systems, and installations of uncertified software in its machines in 17 counties. It specifically cited San Diego County, where 573 of 1,611 polling places, 55% of the county's total, failed to open on time because low battery power caused machines to malfunction and preventing an unknown number of voters from casting ballots.

A spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer said prosecutors would review Shelley’s claims.

Mark Radke, a Diebold spokesman, could not be reached for comment Friday, but the firm has denied the accusations in the past. Diebold later issued a statement saying it was confident in its systems and planned to work with election officials in California and throughout the nation to run a smooth election this fall.

Diebold officials, in a 28-page report rebutting many of the accusations about its performance, said the company had been singled out unfairly for problems with electronic voting and maintained its machines are safe, secure and demonstrated 100 percent accuracy in the March election. The company, a subsidiary of automatic teller machine maker Diebold, Inc., acknowledged it had "alienated" the secretary of state’s office and promised to redouble efforts to improve relations with counties and the state.

The company, which last week apologized for using software for its machines in Alameda County that had not been approved by the state, issued a statement contending that it had been "open and forthcoming in its dealings with the office of the secretary of state, as well as with local California elections officials, and disputes the secretary of state's accusations." Mark G. Radke, director of marketing for Diebold, said the company would work with its customer counties to make sure they could conduct elections. He said that despite Shelley's criticism, the public should have confidence in Diebold's voting systems. "We have confidence in our technology and its benefits, and we look forward to helping administer successful elections in California and elsewhere in the country in November," Radke said.

Source Articles:

All voting machines decertified

State Blocks Digital Voting

Machines banned in four counties; 10 more counties must meet conditions

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