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Diebold in California: Machinations Behind Closed Doors PDF  | Print |  Email
By Sherry Healy, California Election Protection Network   
November 23, 2005
November 21 was an exhilarating day in Sacramento. Deja vu of the last Diebold hearing, this new attempt to certify Diebold wares once again raised the near-unanimous ire of concerned citizens. The passion and dedication of the people attending was palpable. To witness more than 125 citizens, journeying great distances--on short notice and on a short holiday week--who all came together to defend the integrity of our democratic processes, was to witness the real "Patriot Act."

Without the dedication and vigilance of these activists, other concerned citizens would never have known that behind closed doors, the machinery of the Secretary of State’s office was in high gear ready to certify Diebold.

Testing Diebold

Diebold suffered some setbacks earlier this year trying to meet the new state requirement for a voter verified paper audit trail. In its initial test this summer, the AccuView printer attachment to the TSx model touch screen voting machine had a staggering 30% performance failure rate. Diebold made adjustments, resubmitted, and reportedly passed a second test in September, clearing the way for rectifying the Tsp machines in four counties where they've been suspended since spring 2004.

Test Results: Passing With a Weak Thumb’s Up

California's official voting equipment certification tester, Steve Freeman, issued a slightly qualified "thumbs up" for Diebold. Freeman applied his stamp of approval despite the fact that he did not run tests on the specific security holes revealed by computer security experts Avi Rubin, Herbert Thompson and Harry Hursti, which later applied in demonstrations of undetected vote-switching conducted under simulated election conditions. As one election official (who asked not to be identified) said of the State’s passing grade on the testing results, “Isn’t it like examining a patient for small pox and proudly announcing that their teeth are clean?”
Aces Up Sleeves?

Jim March of provided the most riveting and colorful overview of the various new ways recording and tabulation can be hacked on Diebold equipment. His gift for explaining technical intricacies kept the audience on the edge of their seats. After detailing uncorrected software and hardware defects in Diebold voting systems that remain standing invitations to vote fraud, March noted Diebold continued refusal to release its source code for testing, or to identify the authors responsible March concluded his remarks with this advice to public officials promoting the use of Diebold voting machines, "If you don't want to be accused of cheating at cards, don't let aces fall out of your sleeves at every step."

The Seven Reason NOT to Certify Diebold

Numerous members of the California Election Protection Network (CEPN) delivered spoken testimony. The CEPN also entered into the record their press advisory titled “Seven Reason NOT to Certify Diebold.” [Attachment 1].

SB370: Cart Before the Horse

Michelle Gabriel of the Voting Rights Task Force and CEPN, raised an excellent point about the recent passage of SB370. (SB370 will allow voters to read their hard earned and soon to be required accessible voter verified paper trail upon the event an audit.) Yet to satisfy the impending SB370 Gabriel something to the effect of, No one has yet bothered to test under real life conditions, whether its practical, or even possible to do an audit using Diebold's AccuView printer and its roller-fed, thermal-paper tape. Let’s test this equipment for all its required tasks BEFORE certifying it, because the Secretary of State’s Office has NO right to risk the security of our next election with untested election machines.

Diebold Groups Surprising About-Face

In a surprise about-face, all of the disabled groups represented at Monday's hearing went on record against certifying the Diebold equipment, stating that it simply does not meet their specific needs. Over the past two years many disabled groups have lobbied and litigated forcefully for the adoption of Diebold-type voting systems. There has been much speculation about the motives behind such pro-Diebold efforts, considering that the Diebold campaigning began AFTER Diebold made a six-figure contribution to the largest national association of the blind.

Disabled Groups & HAVA

The reversal by disability groups at Monday's hearing is very significant, because the most forceful influence driving county elections officials to the purchase of DRE (touch screen) voting machines like the Diebold TsX has been the threat of lawsuits brought by the disabled against election officials resisting the switch to DRE voting systems. There is a pervasive misconception, actively promoted by DRE vendors and supporters, that the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires touch screen (DRE) voting systems as the only suitable means to address disabled voting needs. HAVA merely requires that voting systems enable disabled persons to vote independently, and there are non-computerized voting solutions that meet this condition. [Link] Further, last year a federal court decision clearly stated that the rights of the disabled cannot come at the expense of the majority of voters. [Link]

HAVA: “Use it or Lose it”

The major threat driving voting system purchasing decisions has been the HAVA funds’ “Use it or Lose it” deadline, set for the stroke of midnight at the end of this year. County elections officials who have found the voting equipment options offered them unacceptable, given the confusion about which federal standards may eventually be required, wish to avoid hasty purchases they may later regret. Many would prefer to forego the one-time federal funding bonanza and wait for better voting systems to be developed under clear federal standards.

HAVA & DOJ Enforcement

But now a new pressure is being applied to force purchase decisions for DRE equipment. At the time of last summer’s second Carter-Baker Commission, which addressed the public's eroding confidence in our voting systems, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement announcing that state election departments that failed to make arrangements for equipment upgrades effective by Jan. 1, 2006 would be visited by Department of Justice (DOJ) investigators. Marin County election official Madelyn DeJusto recently said, “And when you get a visit from them [the DOJ] they don’t go away.”

Hold on HAVA

Megan Matson of Mainstreet Moms Operation Blue (MOB) eloquently presented her organization’s idea for a “Hold on HAVA” campaign, in solidarity with the National Alliance of County Officials (NACO). This national elections official organization seeks to extend the HAVA deadline for two years. In a recent impassioned plea to members of Congress, NACO explained that they have no “crystal ball” to see what equipment will be certified. Further, the Election Assistance Commission--the four-person panel charged with supervising the enactment of HAVA--is months behind its own deadlines for setting these standards.

The “No Hearing Hearing”

Much has already been written about the peculiar nature of Monday's certification hearing. The hastily assembled delegation of Election Division officials before whom the citizens spoke on Monday has no decision-making role. Those officers do not even have an advisory role in this certification decision. Under former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, there had been a Voting Systems and Procedures Panel expressly charged with advising the Secretary of State. No longer. Those sitting in chairs on stage Monday were props in a show of minimal compliance with the certification procedure's hearing requirement. Our good citizens who pleaded for election integrity can only hope that perhaps Secretary McPherson or someone he designates may possibly read and consider any of their remarks before issuing a decision on Diebold certification. California Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) is the first legislator to question this break with previously established protocol for seriously considering citizen comment. [Attachment 2]

Media Coverage of Monday's Events?

Given the nearly total blackout in the mainstream press on questions raised by recent elections, citizen activists were heartened to see an unprecedented turnout by the news media for Monday's voting system certification hearing. Longtime Sacramento media consultant Cress Vellucci exclaimed, “I’ve never seen this much media show up for this kind of event.” TV camera crews were dispatched by two local NPR television affiliates and Sacramento's Channel 3. Radio reporters from KQED, KPFA, KPFK and a CNN affiliate recorded and conducted interviews during the demonstration. Writers were assigned by the AP wire, Stockton Press, Oakland Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and Sacramento Reporter.

Where’s the Media on Election Integrity?

Curiously, to date, not a single news agency of national stature has even mentioned the highly critical 117-page report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of October 12, 2005, which catalogs widespread electronic voting failures and warns of continuing, unattended security risks in the nation's voting systems. Downloand the GAO Report here [PDF].

New Opportunities for Coverage

The first articles breaking the events of earlier today have ssidestepped the issues of Diebold voting systems' insufficiencies and the company's history of election law violations, choosing instead to feature the State's contention that the systems have the passed the requisite tests.

Where in the World is Bruce?

The integrity of California elections is now in the lap of Governor Schwarzenegger's appointed Secretary of State Bruce McPherson. He did not bother to descend from his upstairs office to hear the testimony of citizens in the auditorium. But two others interested in his job - State Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) and Green Party candidate Forrest Hill were both present and keenly attentive to the Diebold hearing issues.

What’s Next Behind Closed Doors? “Good Night and Good Luck”

What’s Next will take place Behind Closed Doors: There is a closed meeting next week in Sacramento, to be held at the Hyatt Regency on November 27-28. Its stated agenda is to discuss the conditions of certification and “best practices."  Some of the invited officials are known to be those who have openly flouted election code and zealously supported relaxed election integrity standards. Yet, on balance, no one was invited from our steering committee, despite the fact that we are a non-partisan organization of over 25 groups across California dedicated to election integrity. We have been tipped off by an election insider that we will are blacklisted from participating in this summit. While we would like to believe that it is a misunderstanding only time will tell. In the meantime, we do have rejection letters from Bruce McDannold of McPherson's office stating that we cannot attend, but that we may rest assured that our views will be represented. [Attachment 3] We wonder how Bruce McDannold can make that assurance? After reviewing the summit's agenda, we know that there are three attendees, computer scientists, who share our concerns. But they speak from a computer expert perspective--not ours.

We Can Do It Right!

If the Secretary of State is indeed blacklisting the CEPN, an organization who has demonstrated its desire, ability and knowledge in the discussion voting integrity, we respectfully ask for reconsideration. Democracy is at a critical juncture: At the November 27-28 Summit California will determine its future election practices for years to come, and attendance by our informed citizens is not only desirable, but necessary.

For more information visit California Election Protection Network.
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