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Diebold audit, certification on Jan. 15 voting panel agenda

January 14, 2004

Hi Folks,

This Thursday, January 15 the Secretary of State's Voting Systems Panel will meet in Sacramento to discuss the status of Diebold and its voting systems in California.

A lot has happened over the past month and I thought CVF-NEWS subscribers would like a recap of developments in advance of Thursday's meeting, which is open to the public and will begin at 10:00 a.m. at the Secretary of State's office at 11th and O Streets in downtown Sacramento.

Back in October 2003, Diebold sought state certification of its newest voting machine, the Accuvote-TSx, a lighter version of its current model, the Accuvote-TS, used in Alameda and Plumas counties. But just before certification was taken up by the Secretary of State's Voting System Panel (VSP), the Secretary of State's office learned that Diebold had installed an uncertified version of its software into Alameda's voting system prior to California's historic, October 7 recall election.

State law (Election code section 19213) requires vendors to notify the Secretary of State in writing whenever a change or modification is sought, and the Secretary of State must determine whether the change is significant enough to require reexamination. Vendors are also required to supply a copy of current software versions to the Secretary of State to keep in an escrow account.

Because Diebold's actions in Alameda were a violation of state law, the Secretary of State ordered an audit of all 17 California counties using Diebold voting equipment, which includes touchscreen as well as paper-based optical scan systems. Preliminary results of that audit were released at the December 15, 2003 VSP meeting.

The audit found that Diebold had installed uncertified versions of software or firmware in all 17 counties it services in California. In five counties, the audit showed that the versions of software Diebold reported to auditors that the counties were using were not the same versions as the auditors found in use in those counties. In three counties, including Los Angeles, which used Diebold touchscreens for early absentee voting, the software used was not only uncertified by the state but was not approved by the federal government, either.

Had the recall election been close it is likely California would have experienced a Florida-style meltdown in the days and weeks following the October 7 election; hundreds of thousands of ballots were transacted electronically on Diebold touchscreen machines for which there is currently no voter verified paper backup of the ballots. Without a voter verified paper trail voters are wholly dependent on vendors and counties to faithfully follow the certification laws and requirements. If those laws are not followed, and there is no voter verified paper ballot to fall back on when questions about the integrity of voting software arise, then the public and candidates have no way to independently verify that reported election results are accurate.

Diebold representatives insisted at the last meeting that the changes in the uncertified software versions used were cosmetic and insignificant; the Secretary of State's continuing audit will hopefully reveal whether this is true or not.

Despite Diebold's sloppy practices and failure to follow the state's most essential certification rules, the registrars of voters from four counties — Kern, San Joaquin, Solano and San Diego — are still hoping to use thousands of Diebold's new machine, the TSx in the upcoming March 2 primary election.

However, shortly after the December 16 meeting, it was discovered that the TSx machine lacks federal approval. While it has been tested by federal labs, no authority at the federal level has yet given the TSx the stamp of approval and issued a "qualified number" indicating that the machine is federally approved.

The state granted conditional certification of the TSx based on the presumption that the machine had been federally approved, and had been tested to the 2002 federal voting system standards, rather than the older, and out-of-date 1990 standards. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the TSx machine also has not been completely tested to the 2002 standards as was indicated by the vendor.

We will find out on Thursday what the next step will be for the TSx and for Diebold. The Secretary of State's Voting System Panel could either withdraw conditional certification and in effect decertify the TSx; or allow the conditional certification to stand; or fully certify the TSx; or decertify Diebold altogether. That last option, as extreme as it is, is not out of the question. At the last VSP meeting Secretary of State Kevin Shelley appeared before the committee and stated that while he hoped the final audit results would not indicate the need to decertify Diebold, if the final audit results indicate gross discrepancies and violations, he's "prepared to go down that road."

Amazingly, three of the four counties hoping to use the TSx — Kern, San Joaquin and Solano — have already taken delivery of thousands of these machines despite the fact that they lack federal approval or full state certification. San Diego is planning to spend $30 million on 10,000 TSx machines. Solano county's supervisors made a smart move this week and approved a backup plan to use their optical scan voting system if the TSx is decertified; the other counties would be wise to make alternate plans as well, since there's no guarantee the TSx will be federally approved in time for the March primary.

For more information about these developments, see:

Voting System Panel agenda, transcripts of past meetings, and certification procedures

"E-voting underminded by sloppiness", by Kim Zetter, Wired News

"County's voting machines aren't federally approved", by Warren Lutz, Daily Republic (Solano county)

"County OKs paper ballot backup for Diebold system", by Greg Moberly, Times-Herald (Solano County)

-- Kim Alexander, President
California Voter Foundation, 916-441-2494

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This page was first published on January 14, 2004 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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