Maryland House Votes to Oust Diebold Machines

The state of Maryland stands poised to put its entire $95 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 last week voted 137-0 to approve a bill prohibiting election officials from using AccuVote-TS touch-screen systems in the 2006 primary and general elections. The legislation calls for the state to lease paper-based optical-scan systems for the 2006 votes. State Delegate Anne Healey estimated the leasing cost at $12.5 million to $16 million for the two elections.

Healey, a Democrat, is the vice chairwoman of the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee, which recommended the passage of the bill. The bill was sent on to the state Senate for a vote after the House action, she said.

No Confidence

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 to provide the necessary paper trail, she said.

Healey said the law would require the vendor to provide a paper trail before the 2008 elections or risk losing its contract to supply machines in the state. The bill also mandates 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.

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 "work with the state of Maryland, as we always have, to support their elections as they see fit." He noted that Maryland has been using Diebold machines for several years without problems. The state first contracted with Diebold to provide the systems in January 2002.

Maryland is following in the footsteps of several other states in expressing concern over security flaws in the Diebold machines.

Earlier this month, Florida adopted a new set of security procedures for the use of e-voting systems from any supplier.

The implementation of the new procedures in Florida was largely a response to reports issued last month by California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson saying that tests found the Diebold systems 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.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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