Maryland House votes to oust Diebold machines

It would replace $90M worth of e-voting machines with systems offering a paper trail

The state of Maryland stands poised to put its entire $90 million investment in Diebold Election Systems Inc. touch-screen e-voting systems on ice because they can’t produce paper receipts.

The state House of Delegates this week voted 137-0 to approve a bill prohibiting election officials from using AccuVote-TSx touch-screen systems in 2006 primary and general elections.

The legislation calls for the state to lease paper-based optical-scan systems for this year's votes. State Delegate Anne Healey estimated the leasing cost at $12.5 million to $16 million for the two elections.

Healey is the vice chairwoman of the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee, which recommended the passage of the bill.

The bill was sent onto the State Senate for a vote after the House action, she said.

Healey said the effort was inspired in part by concerns raised by officials in California and Florida that the Diebold systems have inherent security problems caused by technological and procedural flaws.

“We’ve been hearing from the public for the last several years that it doesn’t have confidence in a system without a paper trail,” Healey said. “We need to provide that level of confidence going forward.”

If the bill becomes law, the state’s Diebold systems will be placed in “abeyance” and the vendor will be required to equip them so that they provide the requisite paper trail, she said.

Healey said the law would require that the machines provide a paper trail before the 2008 elections or Diebold would risk losing its contract with the state.

The bill also requires that any leased optical-scan system be equipped to accommodate the needs of handicapped voters, to ensure compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act statutes.

Healey said she expects the Senate to vote on the bill sometime in the next few weeks, before the legislative session ends.

A Diebold spokesman said the company will “certainly work with the state of Maryland, as we always have, to support their elections as they see fit.”

The spokesman noted that Maryland has been using Diebold machines for several years without problems. The state first contracted with the company to provide the systems in January 2002.

Maryland is following in the footsteps of several other states in expressing concern over the lack of a paper trail in the Diebold machines.

Earlier this month, Florida adopted a new set of security procedures for users of e-voting systems from all suppliers of e-voting machines.

The implementation of these new procedures in Florida was largely a response to reports issued last month by California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson that tests of the Diebold systems found them vulnerable to external access via hacking or bugs.

Nonetheless, McPherson has granted conditional certification for the Diebold machines in California’s elections — with the proviso that supervisors adhere to new security guidelines when using the gear.

The guidelines require that administrators reset the cryptographic keys on every AccuVote-TSx machine from the factory-installed default before every election. Additionally, each memory card must be programmed securely under the supervision of the registrar of voters.

Over an unspecified long term, Diebold must fix the security vulnerabilities to retain the California certification.

In a statement, Diebold said it “wholeheartedly agrees” with the proposed security procedures and said it plans to improve the security of the optical-scan firmware in its machines and create digital signatures to detect tampering.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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