US state votes to oust Diebold machines

The state of Maryland stands poised to put its entire US$90 millioninvestment in Diebold Election Systems Inc. touch-screen e-votingsystems on ice because they can’t produce paper receipts.

The state House of Delegates this week voted 137-0 to approve abill prohibiting election officials from using AccuVote-TSxtouch-screen systems in 2006 primary and general elections.

The legislation calls for the state to lease paper-based opticalscan systems for this year’s votes. State Delegate Anne Healeyestimated the leasing cost at $12.5 to $16 million for the twoelections.

Healey is the vice chairwoman of the Maryland House Ways and MeansCommittee, which recommended the passage of the bill.

The bill was sent on to the State Senate for a vote after the Houseaction, she said.

Healey said the effort was inspired in part by concerns raised byofficials in California and Florida that the Diebold systems haveinherent security problems caused by technological and proceduralflaws.

“We’ve been hearing from the public for the last several years thatit doesn’t have confidence in a system without a paper trail,”Healey said. “We need to provide that level of confidence goingforward.”

If the bill becomes law, the state’s Diebold systems will be placedin “abeyance” and the vendor will be required to equip them toprovide the requisite paper trail, she said.

Healey said the law would require the vendor to provide a papertrail before the 2008 elections or risk losing its contract tosupply machines in the state.

The bill also requires that any leased optical-scan system beequipped to accommodate the needs of handicapped voters, to ensurecompliance with the federal Help America Vote Act statutes.

Healey said she expects the Senate to vote on the bill sometime inthe next few weeks, before the legislative session ends.

A Diebold spokesman said the company will “certainly work with thestate of Maryland, as we always have, to support their elections asthey see fit.”

The spokesman noted that Maryland has been using Diebold machinesfor several years without problems. The state first contracted withthe company to provide the systems in January 2002.

Maryland is following in the footsteps of several other states inexpressing concern over the lack of a paper trail in the Dieboldmachines.

Earlier this month, Florida adopted a new set of securityprocedures for users of e-voting systems from all suppliers ofe-voting machines.

The implementation of these new procedures in Florida was largely aresponse to reports issued last month by California Secretary ofState Bruce McPherson that tests of the Diebold systems found themvulnerable to external access via hacking or bugs.

Nonetheless, McPherson has granted conditional certification forthe Diebold machines in California’s elections — with the provisothat supervisors adhere to new security guidelines when using thegear.

The guidelines require that administrators reset the cryptographickeys on every AccuVote-TSx machine from the factory-installeddefault before every election. Additionally, each memory card mustbe programmed securely under the supervision of the registrar ofvoters.

Over an unspecified long term, Diebold must fix the securityvulnerabilities to retain the California certification.

In a statement, Diebold said it “wholeheartedly agrees” with theproposed security procedures and said it plans to improve thesecurity of the optical-scan firmware in its machines and createdigital signatures to detect tampering.

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