Maryland dumps Diebold voting machines

The state of Maryland has dumped its $90 million Diebold voting machine system. The Maryland House voted 137-0 to dump the Accuvote TS system because it does not provide a paper record of votes.

The Baltimore Sun reported lawmakers concluded the state had adopted a voting technology that makes it impossible to audit election results, impossible to carry out recounts in close or contested races, and makes it possible for the machine makers to rig election results without fear of detection.

Avi Rubin, professor of computer science and director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University, in an article in the Sun, said a rigged or bugged electronic machine can display one result to the voter and record the opposite. Rubin added that since ballots are secret, there is no way to tell if a machine makes a mistake or cheats.

Rubin added that without some external check on the system, a fully electronic voting machine can’t be properly audited. He said there is no reason that touch-screen machines cannot be built to provide paper ballots, but they should not be used to count votes.

Maryland is not alone in the demand for voter-verified paper records of every vote. After what happened in 2000 and 2004, outraged voters pressured their lawmakers to clean up the voting act. There are now 26 states requiring a verified paper trail for every vote.

The debate over electronic versus paper voting grew hot and heavy in Maryland before the final resolution. Three days after legislators voted to dump the electronic machines, Diebold said it had a plan to furnish a paper trail for a fraction of the cost the state will incur under the new voting legislation.

The voting machine maker offered to replace 5 percent of Maryland’s voting machines with models that are linked to a printer. So replacing about 1,000 of the state’s machines with printer-linked models would cost approximately $5 million, versus the estimated $12 to $16 million for leasing such a system for a year.

The plan met with strong and heated rejection from Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and members of the Maryland House. Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor, said: “The governor does not believe that is even close to a sufficient solution. The governor believes we need a solution that protects every vote, not 5 percent of the votes.”

Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, who backs the House’s proposed optical-scan system, said the Diebold option does nothing to fix machines she says are full of flaws. “It doesn’t matter if we have printers for these Diebold machines,” she said, “they are inherently insecure. If something were to go wrong, we would never know it.”

One observer noted: “The movement in the Maryland statehouse is calling for ‘paper receipts’ or ‘paper trails,’ which is a far cry from paper ballots.” He went on to say that ballots are counted, receipts are not.

Lawmakers intend to lease machines that have a verifiable paper trail and were to use them in the just-past primary.

Gov. Ehrlich jumped into the fray three weeks ago when he stated he no longer had confidence in the State Board of Election’s ability to carry out an accurate and tamper-free vote in November. He also said he lacks confidence in Linda Lamone, the board’s director, who backs Diebold. Soon after, information was disclosed that Lamone had allowed uncertified Diebold software to be used in the 2002 and 2004 elections. Maryland also had massive machine failures in the 2004 vote.

Lamone insists on the Diebold machines, contending they are sound and secure. Replacement of the system would mean testing and certification of new machines, and reeducation of voters and election workers.

“The rallying cry now is: ‘Diebold out of Maryland,’” said Linda Schade, a member of a group called TrueVoteMD. “It’s unbelievable. They should not be signing any more contracts with Diebold, they should be suing Diebold.”

Rockford and Winnebago County uses optical scan machines for all primaries and general elections. Questions still remain about their programming vulnerability and hacker-proof status.

From the March 22-28, 2006, issue

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