California Unplugs Some E-Voting Machines

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California has banned the use of touch-screen voting machines in a handful of counties until security concerns are satisfied, possibly until after the presidential election this fall.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley issued the order revoking the systems' certification Friday after weeks of discussion, including a recent recommendation by the California Voting Systems and Procedures Panel. That evaluation expressed concern about what the panel called "disenfranchisement" of voters who were unable to vote using the touch-screen system in the March primary because of technical problems.

Counting Concerns

"We are taking every step possible to assure all Californians that their ballots will be counted accurately," Shelley says in a statement released by the secretary of state's office.

With Shelley's action, California decertified the Diebold AccuVote-TSX touch-screen system and prohibited its use in the four counties where it is installed: Kern, San Diego, San Joaquin, and Solano. He is also urging the state attorney general to investigate what he calls "fraudulent actions by Diebold," which could lead to criminal and civil charges.

Representatives at Diebold Election Systems say the company is still willing to provide technical support for all of the 19 California counties that use its equipment, including the four using the AccuVote-TSX systems that have been decertified.

"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," says Mark G. Radke, Diebold's director of marketing, in a statement.

E-Voting Worries

Various forms of electronic voting systems have been under fire for some time at both the federal and state levels.

In California, the secretary of state alleges Diebold rushed systems to market, causing some machines to be installed that were not sufficiently tested or qualified at the federal level nor certified at the state level.

Diebold representatives, however, point out that California's decertification applies only to the type of systems used in the four counties cited, and express confidence the company can address the state's concerns.

"We plan to continue working in California in a significant capacity in the future," Radke says in his statement. The company notes that its TSX system has undergone testing for federal qualification by independent authorities for the past nine months. Diebold expects its system will be the first touch-screen voting system to be qualified under the new 2002 federal standards.

Criticism Mounts

Shelley says the California counties still using touch-screen systems will be required to install a voter-verified paper trail before November's election or to meet a slate of 23 security measures before he will recertify the systems. He set a May 30 deadline for the state to determine a voter-verified paper audit trail. He is also urging federal election officials to take similar action.

At least two citizen watchdog groups, and Common Cause, have also urged Congress to mandate a verifiable paper trail for electronic voting. For example, the Voter Confidence and Accessibility Act, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), would require that paper copies of each voter's results accompany an electronic ballot. The paper copy could be reviewed by the voter but would not leave the voting area, and would be used in case of vote recounts.

Diebold also drew attention last year when it brought charges against operators of several Web sites, including some universities, that criticized or linked to criticism of its e-voting systems. Diebold contended that some of the documents had been stolen from hackers who broke into its systems. However, the company dropped its claims in December.

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