In less than a week, state officials are poised to approve a new Diebold electronic-voting
system that several large counties, including Alameda, want to use.
But the system showed problems in security, protection of voter privacy and printing
of a paper trail during testing this spring.
State elections authorities have obscured the full nature of those problems
by blacking out parts of test reports that have been released under the state
Public Records Act and declaring other documents too full of Diebold "trade
secrets" for public release.
During tests in late April and early May, a chief feature of Diebold's new
computerized voting machine — the ability to print out voters' electronic
choices so they could be verified and, if needed, recounted — performed
so poorly that the state's testing consultant concluded "this version is
not ready for use in an election."
Assistant Secretary of State Brad Clark, a former Alameda County registrar,
said Thursday that those problems have been fixed, and the Diebold system desired
by county elections officials is ready for state consideration.
A panel advising Secretary of State Bruce McPherson is to vote on approval
of the new Diebold touch-screen voting system next week.
Elections officials say new systems such as Diebold's are essential if California
counties are to meet January 2006federal mandates for handicapped voting and
state mandates for providing a voter-verifiable paper record.
"The more options that are out there for the counties to use, the better
off we are," Clark said.
Diebold's first efforts to secure approval for its AccuVote TSx in California
ended in public distrust of all electronic voting and consideration of criminal
charges against Diebold. That's partly because Diebold officials persuaded four
counties to spend more than $40 million on the TSx — and state elections
officials to approve its use in the 2004 presidential primary — before
the system made it through lab tests and federal approval.
Former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley rescinded the TSx approval in April,
and thousands of those machines now sit in climate-controlled warehouses in
San Diego, San Joaquin and Kern counties.
Solano County dropped its Diebold machines and switched to another vendor.
Alameda County elections officials want to swap out 4,000 older AccuVote TS
machines for the TSx, which is smaller, lighter and equipped with a printer
for generating a paper record of a voter's choices for the voter to verify.
Before applying to California for approval, voting-system makers are required
by state election rules to get their machines through lab tests and federal
approval, then draw up procedural and training manuals for using them. None
of this was done in October 2003, and none of it was done before Diebold applied
for approval again in March.
"We're going through the same kind of scenario, not only from Diebold
but from the (Secretary of State's) elections division," said Jody Holder,
a voting activist who unearthed reports on state tests of the new Diebold machines
and e-mails between the state and Diebold through a public-records request.
"You can see from the e-mails between them that they're bending over backwards."
"There's a sense of deja vu in this rush," said Kim Alexander, president
of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Davis.
Contact Ian Hoffman at email@example.com