Diebold withdraws e-voting systems from certification in N.C.

Company couldn't comply with state review; one vendor remains

Electronic-voting systems vendor Diebold Election Systems has withdrawn its attempt to certify its products for use in North Carolina elections just two weeks after a legal challenge alleged that the systems had not undergone detailed, state-required software reviews.

Gary O. Bartlett, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, today confirmed that Allen, Texas-based Diebold notified his agency this week that it was pulling out of the running to sell its e-voting systems to the state. Reached at his home in Goldsboro, N.C., Bartlett said he was on vacation for the holidays and declined further comment. A Diebold spokesman said his company withdrew because a new state law was too difficult to adhere to.

Another vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. in Oakland, Calif., was dropped from the state certification process after it was unable to obtain a required federal system certification, said spokeswoman Michelle Shafer. The company wanted to remain in the running while it attempted to get federal certification, but the state election board declined the offer, she said.

Only one company, Election Systems & Software Inc. in Omaha, remains as an e-voting systems vendor in North Carolina as part of a certification process that began earlier this year.

The withdrawals of Diebold and Sequoia come a few weeks after the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a national digital rights advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina board of elections, alleging that the agency had certified e-voting systems from the three vendors on Dec. 1 before performing "nondiscretionary source code integrity reviews prior to granting certification" (see "EFF files suit over e-voting in N.C.").

The EFF complaint was also filed on behalf of Winston-Salem, N.C., resident Joyce McCloy, who has been an e-voting activist in the state for the past several years and is the founder of the North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting.

According to the lawsuit, the election board's Dec. 1 certifications of the three e-voting systems did not comply with a new state e-voting equipment law enacted in August because the vendors were unable to provide the source code for proprietary, third-party software included in their voting systems.

The e-voting law, enacted to correct problems with the state's previous rules, requires the elections board to hold in escrow all software used by an e-voting system so it can be reviewed for security and accuracy prior to being certified, according to the lawsuit. Instead, the board certified the systems first and said the code reviews could take place "within 15 working days of the contract award." That provision is not included in the new state law, according to the EFF.

Mark Radke, marketing director for Diebold, said today the company withdrew because it can't meet the requirements of the new state law that it says is too stringent. The problem, he says, is that Diebold can't submit software code for third-party applications its systems use because they are not the owners of that code. Also, he said, the state law requires that applicants seeking to certify their e-voting systems and software must submit the names of all software developers who worked on the applications. That requirement is difficult to follow, he said.

"Because of the far-reaching scope of [the new law] ... that's where the problem comes in," Radke said. "If we don't meet the terms of the state law, it's a felony. We would like to see that requirement modified. As it stands now, I don't see how anyone can meet the requirements of providing all the engineers' names."

The company would like to continue to seek certification for its systems in the state if the law is changed, he said.

McCloy said Diebold's withdrawal is appropriate since the company did not meet the letter of the new law.

"It looks to me that the process may be working after all," said McCloy, who reacted angrily earlier this month when Diebold filed a lawsuit in North Carolina asking that the company be exempted from the code-escrow requirements of the new law. That lawsuit was dismissed in court.

McCloy said she is comfortable with Election Systems & Software as the sole remaining vendor for e-voting systems in North Carolina because the company has "contended all along that they could comply with the law."

"They at least have said, 'Yes, we can do it,'" McCloy said. "They've never opposed the Verified Voting law in North Carolina."

Matt Zimmerman, staff attorney at the EFF, said Diebold had to pull out because it couldn't comply with the requirements of the new state e-voting law.

"The legislation was designed to make these systems as transparent as possible, and it's not an excuse to outsource your software," Zimmerman said. "There's no business model that's exempt in this legislation and there shouldn't be."

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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