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California votes against Diebold

State election officials recommend decertifying some of the company's voting machines after an investigation confirms that errors were made.

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--California election officials on Thursday recommended banning some Diebold Election Systems voting machines and referred an investigation into the company to the attorney general for possible civil and criminal sanctions.

California's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel unanimously voted to send its recommendations to the secretary of state in a second morning of contentious hearings, during which Diebold's president apologized to the panel and admitted that the company's errors had prevented some Californians from voting.

But panel members said Thursday morning that the company's apologies were insufficient, and they expressed frustration with and distrust of the electronic-voting vendor.

"I'm disgusted by the actions of this company," said panel member Marc Carrel, assistant secretary of state for policy and planning. "And I think we should forward our recommendations to the attorney general, because I can't believe that a lot of the statements made yesterday were accurate."

The panel could have decertified all of Diebold's equipment but opted instead to revoke only the conditional certification, issued in November, that allowed the company's TSx touch screen system to be used in the March Super Tuesday primary election.

The TSx, used in March by San Diego, Solano, San Joaquin and Kern counties, is the successor to Diebold's older TS machine, used in the election by Alameda, Los Angeles and Plumas counties. The TS version was not covered by the panel's vote.

Diebold President Bob Urosevich said the panel's recommendation to decertify the TSx was unsurprising, given that it had been certified only for the March election.

"We have other combinations of equipment the counties can work with," Urosevich said in an interview with CNET News.com. "This was somewhat expected, after the one-time certification the secretary of state was kind enough to give us."

Like others at Diebold, Urosevich declined to comment on the recommendation to send the report to the attorney general.

Diebold and its handful of competitors are under intense scrutiny, as states across the nation struggle to upgrade their voting systems in time for the November presidential election. After the 2000 election, which was decided by merely hundreds of votes and in which paper ballots proved impossible to decipher in many cases, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to spur states into modernizing their equipment.

Simultaneously, Diebold--which on Tuesday said its net income for the first quarter rose to 40 cents a share, up from 36 cents a share a year ago--finds its elections division under fire, after a series of voting glitches, public-relations messes and legal problems.

Over the past year, the company's reputation has sustained a series of blows: Its chief executive was berated for promising in an August 2003 Republican fund-raising letter to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to President Bush. E-vote critics discovered the company's elections equipment source code sitting unprotected on a public FTP server.

That code subsequently underwent analysis by security experts who called its security measures inadequate at best. And the company undertook--and later abandoned, under public, legal and even congressional pressure--a copyright offensive against people who posted damaging internal Diebold e-mail correspondence online.

Following the panel's vote, Diebold said it would respond in writing to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to clarify points of contention between the panel and the company.

Diebold representative David Bear said the company is "disappointed in the panel's recommendation and a little amazed and taken aback by the tone of some of the comments and the accuracy of the report."

While the panel revoked only the TSx conditional certification, Diebold had little else to comfort it during Thursday's hearing.

One after another, panel members excoriated the company for its actions, particularly for its testimony the day before.

Panel chair Mark Kyle called parts of Diebold's testimony "ludicrous and offensive" and, like Carrel, suggested that Diebold had lied to the panel.

Specifically, Kyle dismissed Urosevich's claim that he didn't know about a battery problem that caused more than one-third of San Diego's precincts, along with others in Alameda, to open late on election day. A former Diebold employee subsequently testified that the battery problem was known as early as February.

"There's contradictory testimony there, folks, and it sounds like someone's not being truthful," Kyle said. "Quite frankly, the panel is sick of it.

In addition to decertifying the TSx and sending its report to the attorney general, the panel urged the state legislature to adopt pending legislation that would strengthen the secretary of state's authority over voting systems certification and would toughen penalties for tampering with or inserting uncertified software into voting machines.

Following the vote on Diebold, the panel resumed hearing testimony about electronic voting systems used in the March primary and what the state will certify for use in the November general election.