California Rejects E-Voting
California election officials have recommended decertifying an electronic voting machine that caused problems during the March U.S. presidential primary elections and launching an investigation of its manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems, for possible criminal conduct.
The recommendation was issued Thursday by the California Voting Systems and Procedures Panel after two days of meetings in Sacramento, the state capital. The recommendation goes next to California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. He is expected to decide by April 30 whether to withdraw the machines before the November 2004 U.S. presidential election.
The panel is basing its unanimous decision in part on what it calls the "disenfranchisement" of voters who tried to use the touch-screen system during the March primary. Residents in a handful of counties who tried to use the machine, called the AccuVote-TSx, were unable to record their votes because of technical problems.
The panel also cites the system's failure to receive federal qualification and to comply with the terms of its conditional certification, which was granted in November, according to a statement from Shelley's office.
The panel recommends its findings be sent to the state attorney general for possible civil and criminal action, the statement says. The panel is also urging Shelley to back Senate Bill 1376, which would give California officials additional legal powers to regulate the use of e-voting machines.
Diebold representatives did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The company's older Diebold TS voting machines and its Global Election Management System software were unaffected by Thursday's recommendation.
The new electronic voting systems have raised concerns and drawn comments from both sides.
Critics of digital voting systems, which often involve transmission over the Internet, have complained that the system provides little or no backup. States are eager to avoid the Florida ballot-counting debacle of the 2000 presidential election, but are uneasy about adopting a new method that may come with its own problems. However, Congress has budgeted as much as $3.8 billion for states to replace older punch card and lever election equipment.
Meanwhile, vendors of digital election systems last year formed a trade group to promote the technology and assert their security and ethics policies. They teamed with the Information Technology Association of America to launch the Election Technology Council.
Diebold itself, however, drew fire when it threatened to sue critics of its systems. The maker of the e-voting systems later withdrew its threat. The company was dismayed when internal memos by former employees expressing concern with its systems' securities appeared on several Web sites, including several university sites.