Diebold Machines Voted Out by Florida County

Election officials fear touch-screen system lacks accuracy, accessibility

Florida's Leon County last week decided to scrap its investment in 160 Diebold Election Systems AccuVote optical-scan voting machines, citing handicapped access and accuracy issues.

Leon County believes its $1.2 million e-voting switch is a justifiable expense.
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Leon County believes its $1.2 million e-voting switch is a justifiable expense.
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The Leon County Commission voted unanimously to approve a request by elections supervisor Ion Sancho to swap in new optical-scan devices from Omaha-based Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S).

Sancho said the $1.2 million cost of changing systems is well justified. "To prove to voters that their votes are all counted as they intended them to be counted, yes, it's worth it," he said.

Sancho said the primary reason for ditching the Diebold machines is his lack of confidence in the accuracy of their touch-screen systems, which would have to be installed to ensure access for users with disabilities.

The county would need the Diebold touch-screen systems to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act and Florida state election laws. The HAVA statutes dictate that every precinct have a touch-screen or specially equipped optical-scan device that allows blind voters and other disabled people to cast their ballots unaided.

ES&S offers specialized optical-scan systems that are handicapped accessible.

The Diebold touch-screen e-voting systems have been certified by Florida state elections officials, but Sancho decided not to use them because of their lack of a paper trail. The county replaced Diebold's optical-scan machines as well so it could deal with a single vendor, ES&S, officials said.

A spokesman for McKinney, Texas-based Diebold downplayed the county's decision. "I think Mr. Sancho, for whatever reason, wanted to switch vendors," he said. Meanwhile, Volusia County, Fla., has also decided against using touch-screen systems, and Miami-Dade County is considering scrapping a $25 million investment in ES&S touch screens. Both cited accuracy concerns because the technology doesn't generate paper receipts that allow voters to verify their votes. Compliance Effort

To meet the regulations, Sancho plans to use a hybrid optical-scan reader called AutoMark, which is jointly offered by ES&S and its partner, AutoMark Technical Systems LLC in Lombard, Ill., AutoMark has an audio component that enables the blind to vote.

Sancho said the vendor is working to gain state certification for the system.

In what Sancho called an unrelated action, a Leon County-sponsored hack attack on the Diebold AccuVote optical-scan systems demonstrated vulnerabilities in the memory card. That hacking event was sponsored in part by Black Box Voting Inc., which bills itself as a consumer protection group for elections.

Black Box Voting has been critical of the security of some e-voting systems, especially those that don't provide a paper trail of votes cast and those that can be tampered with in a way that could change the outcome of elections.

The Diebold spokesman dismissed those concerns, saying that the company hasn't been able to participate directly in the hacking attempts, which therefore invalidates them.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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