Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Diebold Denied California Once Again

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has denied Diebold's request for voting machine certification. In a letter sent to Diebold on Tuesday, McPherson's office cited "unresolved significant security concerns" related to Diebold's memory cards. As reported by the Associated Press:
The problems were discovered during routine testing of the machines by state employees and independent consultants, said Secretary of State spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns. She said each system approved for use in California must meet 10 security requirements, and the Diebold machines did not meet one of those standards.

"This is a unique case in which we discovered that the source code had never, ever been reviewed," said Kerns. "There were potential security risks with it."
It might seem, on its face, like it is inexcusable for the code to have evaded review. Yet that is the norm across the country as voting machine vendors have sought to protect their "proprietary" intellectual property. This makes it even more significant that McPherson's response included a demand for Diebold to submit their code to federal investigators before being eligible for further certification consideration in CA. In response to the move, State Senator and Secretary of State candidate Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) said McPherson punted:
"The Secretary of State shouldn't punt the decision about whether Diebold machines should be used to count ballots in California to the federal government and an 'independent' testing authority that's financed by the voting machine vendors," Bowen said in a statement. "That decision needs to be made in the open, right here in California."
For more background on the Independent Testing Authorities (ITAs), see this piece posted last Thursday at Huffington Post by computer science professor and widely recognized election security expert Dr. Avi Rubin:
The ITAs are hired by and paid by -- the vendors. That is, when a vendor has a voting machine that they want certified, they find an ITA who is willing to certify the voting machine. Any memos about flaws that are discovered remain confidential. There is no requirement to disclose any problems that are found with the machines. In fact, the entire ITA report is considered proprietary information of the voting machine vendor. After all, they paid for it. This provides an incentive for ITAs to certify machines, to satisfy their clients.
For perspective on what McPherson's deferral really means, see
And herein lies the trap. Federal testing authorities are supposed to rely on standards set by the Federal Election Commission. The FEC standards prohibit "Interpreted code" -– thus, the AccuBasic "interpreter" is illegal. (The entire AccuBasic source code tree is written in a home-brewed language that Diebold programmers made up themselves, making it more difficult for certifiers to examine.)

The Hursti memory card attack demonstrated in Leon County Florida manipulated the voting system by passing code through -- drum roll please -- the Diebold interpreter, using a set of programs called AccuBasic which was written in a concocted computer language and (now it is revealed) was never examined at all by federal testing labs.

The ITA dilemma: ITAs have the choice of either recommending code that explicitly violates FEC standards (placing an unsupportable liability burden on them) or admitting that the original certification was defective. If the ITAs retract their recommendation, it will effectively strip Diebold of its federal certification, and may also affect its older products.

The Diebold dilemma: Diebold can refuse to submit its code to the ITAs, but that will lose the state of California, continuing a pattern initiated last week when two Florida counties dumped their Diebold machines. Alternatively, Diebold can submit its code and watch as the federal authorities sever their product line from the U.S. market.

The position is made more unstable because Diebold is now fending off stockholder suits by an armload of attorneys piling on to solicit clients for a voting machine-related securities fraud lawsuit.
Diebold divestiture has been an activist strategy for quite a while, most notably organized by Also circulating through various listserves today courtesy of Phyllis at was a list of mutual funds with Diebold as a Top 10 holding:

SymbolName% Assets
AVEDXAve Maria Rising Dividend Fund3.07

So as the saying goes, vote with your dollars. They're like paper ballots and you can typically get a receipt. And as Diebold continues to self-destruct, it should get easier for election reform advocates to move local officials to drop Diebold.

In the meantime, it seems that counties such as Humboldt will find their previously certified equipment grandfathered in for continued approved use. As citizens and voters it behooves us to state clearly that these machines do not meet OUR standards. Every single person in a position to make a decision about this must answer to us, We The People. Our line in the sand has been drawn. We will not accept the inherently inconclusive results of elections held under these conditions, nor will we accept public officials who defend and excuse these conditions. See GuvWurld's Campaign to Unite California Election Reformers.



Just a thought on divestiture: Shareholders have rights and a voice in the corporation. One of organizer Saul Alinsky's more striking campaigns, discussed in his book Rules for Radicals, was using shareholder proxies against the corporation itself (Kodak?). With proxies in hand, they crashed the shareholders meeting. Note, too, that it was shareholders that brought the suit against Diebold. Divestiture may not be the answer - using shares to attack may, and finding people with shares who are willing to use them against Diebold may, too. I guess the question has to be this: Is there any way a Diebold could be made a "good" Diebold? If they can be, then keeping shares and using them as voices is the right tactic. If not, as is generally the view of the tobacco corporations, then divestment is the right tactic.

By Anonymous Scott, at 10:35 AM  

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