Suggested Calif. ban on voting equipment heartens Md. opponents

Problems with one model by Diebold investigated

April 24, 2004|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Opponents of Maryland's decision to switch to Diebold Election Systems electronic voting machines say they are heartened by a recommendation made by a state advisory panel in California to ban one type of the company's machines for use in that state's November election.

A report issued Thursday by the California Voting Systems and Procedures Panel urged Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to ban four counties from using a brand of Diebold machines and launch an investigation of the manufacturer, which supplies Maryland with a similar model.

"My first reaction was `I told you so.' There's been lots of evidence for quite a while that these machines have problems," said Linda Schade, co-director of truevotemd.org, a group that opposes Maryland's use of Diebold machines.

The California panel's decision focused on one model of Diebold's touch-screen machines - the AccuVote-TSx - and followed reports of problems in some of the 14 California counties that used electronic voting equipment for last month's primary. The problems included miscounted ballots, delayed polling place openings and the issuing of wrong ballots to some voters.

The panel faulted Ohio-based Diebold for failing to obtain federal approval of the model used in the four counties and for using software in the primary that had not been approved by the secretary of state.

It also pointed to problems with the equipment that prevented an unspecified number of voters from casting ballots.

Shelley has until Friday to decide whether to ban the use of the Diebold machines in the November election, and the panel is considering whether to recommend banning all electronic voting in the state for that election because of last month's problems.

In a statement on Diebold's Web site, President Robert J. Urosevich said that the company's equipment is accurate and that it will respond in writing to the panel's report before Shelley makes a decision.

The panel suggested that Shelley forward its findings about Diebold to the attorney general "for possible civil and criminal action."

"At first blush, [electronic voting machines] appear to be a good idea, but when you scratch the surface and investigate them, there are problems," said Baltimore County Republican state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, one of eight plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court that asks that Maryland's machines be decertified until the manufacturer fixes security flaws and the devices can print paper records of cast ballots.

Other plaintiffs include Baltimore Councilman Kwame Osayaba Abayomi and members of the Campaign for Verifiable Voting, which is better known as truevotemd.org.

The suit alleges that state election officials violated the law when they certified the touch-screen devices and failed to decertify them after computer experts found that they were susceptible to vote-switching.

State elections administrator Linda Lamone said the recommendation of the California panel will have no effect on Maryland given that the state uses a different machine and software.

But Ryan P. Phair, a Washington attorney representing the plaintiffs, disagrees.

In California, "they're looking at referring this to grand jury proceedings, and here in Maryland, we're embracing" the machines, he said. "It's hard to see how that could be credible anymore."

The Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper, contributed to this article.

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