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Electronic Voting Is Challenged

Times Staff Writer

With early and absentee voting for the March 2 primary already underway, a Sacramento judge will hear a request today for an injunction against Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and registrars of 18 counties using electronic voting technology.

The injunction is being sought by activist Jim March, a computer consultant based in Sacramento, and Bev Harris, who recently published a book about potential security gaps in electronic voting systems. They have been particularly critical of machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Feb. 19, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 19, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
Electronic voting -- An article in Wednesday’s California section about electronic voting machines incorrectly said Orange County would use a touch-screen system in the March 2 primary. In fact, the county will use eSlate machines that do not record votes by users touching the screen. Voters turn a dial to highlight their choice, then record their vote by pushing two buttons.

The lawsuit highlights concerns that have been raised about the security of electronic voting systems, many of which were bought to replace mechanical equipment deemed unreliable after the chaotic presidential balloting in Florida in November 2000.

March said he would ask the judge to require that data cards loaded with vote totals be ferried by hand from polling places to counting centers, rather than first being transmitted over the Internet to provide quick, unofficial results on election night.

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“We’re not trying to stop the election, I guarantee you,” said March, who has appeared repeatedly before the state’s Voting Systems Panel, which monitors the implementation of new technology, to complain about Diebold’s technology and business practices.

“We just want to make sure it’s secure,” he said of electronic voting.

Fourteen California counties, including Orange and San Diego, will use touch-screen technology in the primary, while others, such as Los Angeles, will deploy electronic voting for early balloting or in limited precincts.

Six counties -- Alameda, Kern, Plumas, San Diego, San Joaquin and Solano -- rely on Diebold’s electronic voting machines in their polling precincts.

Texas-based Diebold’s machines were criticized last month in a report to the Maryland Legislature by computer experts hired to hack into a touch-screen system like the one used in California.

March’s complaint referred to a series of security directives for touch-screen voting that Shelley issued in a Feb. 5 memo to registrars.

Shelley’s seven-point list required that officials submit election-ready machinery to random testing by state election officials and consultants, install additional security measures for electronic transmission of election results, prohibit wireless data transmission, remove Internet connectivity during voting, post election results from each individual machine at polling places, keep paper records of all ballots cast, and develop emergency voting equipment security plans.

Ten of the registrars responded that they already comply with many of the measures and dismissed others as impracticable and irrelevant to electronic security.

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Registrars also contended that Shelley does not have the authority to mandate additional last-minute measures without going through formal regulatory or legislative channels.

Shelley defended his security requirements, arguing as he has done in the past that the monitoring procedures were designed to reinforce voter confidence in the new technology by averting what he described as a “crisis of confidence.”


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