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California Joins Suit Against E-Voting Vendor Diebold

The state of California has dropped a criminal investigation into the company that sold it electronic voting machines but instead will join an existing lawsuit charging that the company made false claims about the reliability of the machines.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he would sign on to the lawsuit against Diebold after it was determined that there were insufficient grounds to pursue criminal charges.

Diebold is being sued for allegedly selling voting machines to Alameda County that were not federally certified and not adequately protected against tampering.

Diebold Response

Thomas W. Swidarski, senior vice president of strategic development and global marketing for Diebold, said the company worked with investigators looking into possible criminal charges and would continue to be cooperative.

“We are pleased with the Attorney General’s decision that there is no basis for a criminal prosecution,” he said in a statement. “The company is confident that the State’s decision to intervene will aid in a fair and dispassionate examination of the issues raised in the case.

“We will continue to work with California officials in an effort to put these issues behind us, build trust within the state and move forward with the safe, accurate and reliable elections that Diebold technology, combined with the dedication of voting officials, brings to the citizens of California,” Swidarski added.

The existing suit seeks restitution of some $12 million paid for the systems, which advocates claim failed to work as promised when put to their first real test during a statewide primary election in March.

Promises Not Kept?

The problems with Diebold’s machines moved into the spotlight in April, when California’s Secretary of State held hearings to look into e-voting problems during the March primary. Some voters were given back-up paper ballots, while others were told to return later to vote.

During those hearings, officials claimed that Diebold said that the machines were close to receiving federal certification, but have still not received that OK. That led to the investigation by the attorney general.

The lawsuit alleges that Diebold made false claims about the reliability of the machines as well as their status with regard to federal certification.

Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle suggested California might bear some of the responsibility for the problems as well. “The real problem here was the decision was rushed and based largely on the lowestprice,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. “That combination often results in the highest actual cost.”

“This should slow down electronic voting somewhat, though I doubt it can stop it,” he added.

Governments in general should shy away from being at the forefront of technological change as a rule, Enderle said. “There is an old saying: The pioneers get the arrows, the settler’s get the land,” he said. “Governments really should not be pioneers.”

Familiar Pattern

Stanford University professor and e-voting activist David Dill said the Diebold case fits with a national pattern that is influencing the adoption of electronic voting before its time.

“The vendors are very savvy and aggressive marketers,” Dill said.

There is already something of a backlash against that rush, and the California situation in the March primary helped focus attention on the shortcomings that still exist with e-voting in general, he added.

Dill is one of the founders of the VerifiedVoting.org site that is trying to get local and state governments to heed warnings from technologists about the risks of e-voting.

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