Diebold machines voted out by Florida county

Elections officials cited concerns about accuracy and handicapped accessibility

Leon County, Fla., this week decided to scrap its investment in 160 Diebold Election Systems AccuVote optical scan voting machines, citing handicapped access and accuracy issues.

The Leon County Commission on Tuesday approved a request by elections supervisor Ion Sancho to swap in new optical scan devices from Omaha-based Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S). The commission vote was 7-0. The cost of the swap out will be about $1.2 million, an expense Sancho said is 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.

The primary reason Sancho cited for ditching the Diebold machines is the need to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and Florida state elections laws without having to install touch-screen equipment. The HAVA statutes dictate that every precinct have a touch-screen or specially-equipped optical scan device that allows blind and other handicapped voters to cast their ballots unaided.

While the county could purchase Diebold touch-screen e-voting systems, which have been certified by Florida state elections officials, Sancho said he doesn't want to do so because of questions about their security. Other Florida counties have also declined to install touch-screen systems from Diebold because they don't generate a paper receipt that allows voters to verify that their ballots were properly cast (see "Florida County in Legal Spat Over Purchase of E-voting Machines").

Sancho said a "blended" touch-screen/optical scan environment wouldn't provide complete voter verification, since the Diebold systems don't create an adequate paper trail. Instead, 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 to enable the blind to vote, and while that system hasn't yet been certified by Florida elections officials, Sancho said the vendor is currently working on state certification.

Leon County this week also sponsored two hacking events of the Diebold AccuVote optical scan systems, demonstrating vulnerabilities in the memory card. That hacking event, sponsored in part by Black Box Voting Inc., was coincidental with the commission's vote, said Sancho. Leon County has previously also sponsored hacking events on the optical scan machines.

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

A Diebold spokesman dismissed those concerns, saying the company hasn't been able to participate directly in the hacking attempts, which invalidates them. During elections, said Diebold spokesman David Bear, there are a variety of procedures in place to prevent tampering with the equipment.

As for this week's decision by Leon County, "I think Mr. Sancho, for whatever reason, wanted to switch vendors," Bear said. "One does what one needs to do. Optical scan has been used for many years. Many groups didn't trust touch-screens, and they encouraged voters to vote on paper. Now they're questioning the use of paper."

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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