California calls for review of Diebold voting technology

Wants to ensure security of voting machines

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's office is putting the certification of voting devices from Diebold Election Systems on hold indefinitely while it awaits further testing to verify the vendor's machines' security.

The voting systems maker currently has nine separate components under state review for certification, including technology that's part of its AccuVote TSX touch-screen voting machine and the AccuVote OS optical scan device. The latter product was scheduled this month for a hacking test by a security expert to determine if its memory card was vulnerable to tampering (see "Diebold faces e-voting machine hack test in California").

On Tuesday, McPherson issued a statement saying his office needed "additional federal evaluation" before it would proceed with Diebold's application.

The news comes as California, along with every other state, faces a Jan. 1 deadline for satisfying the requirements of the Help America Vote Act. The act requires that every polling location have a handicapped-accessible, e-voting machine or other device installed.

"I have consistently stated that I will not certify any system for use in California unless it meets the most stringent voting system requirements," McPherson said in a statement. "We are at a critical crossroads for voting system technology; therefore, we must take every available step to ensure the security and integrity of every vote cast in this new electronic age." McPherson also said office will work with California counties on state and federal voting compliance.

In a letter (download PDF) to Diebold on Tuesday, Caren Daniels-Meade, chief of the elections division under McPherson, noted there were "unresolved significant security concerns" around the memory cards used in the AccuVote OS and AccuVote TSX. The card wasn't subjected to federal source-code review and evaluated by independent testing authorities (ITA), Daniels-Meade said. McPherson's office wants both the AccuBasic code on the card, as well as the AccuBasic interpreter, which reads the code, submitted for independent review.

"We require this additional review before proceeding with further consideration of your application for certification in California," the letter stated. "Once we have received a report from the federal ITA adequately analyzing this source code, in addition to the technical and operational specifications relating to the memory card and interpreter, we will expeditiously proceed with our comprehensive review of your application."

David Byrd, vice president of business operations at Diebold, said in response that the company has complied with every California certification test.

"We have always complied with what the state has requested of us, and will treat this new request in the same spirit of cooperation," he said.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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