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EFF moves to block e-voting system certification

Electronic Frontier Foundation says N.C. election officials failed to meet requirements before signing off on setups.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a court complaint Thursday aimed at blocking North Carolina's recent certifications of voting machines, saying state elections officials failed to meet legal requirements before signing off on the systems.

The complaint (click for PDF), filed in Wake County Superior Court by the EFF and a Raleigh lawyer on behalf of a local voters' advocate, calls for a judge to void certifications that the Board of Elections issued last week to Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia Voting Systems.

It also requests a restraining order that would prevent elections officials from certifying any new systems until they comply fully with state election laws. The state legislature modified those laws this summer, setting new standards for e-voting machines and requiring that existing systems be decertified.

State elections officials "exceeded their statutory authority" in signing off on the systems, because they disregarded the law in two areas, the complaint charges. First, they failed to complete a comprehensive review of various security features on the systems, and second, they neglected to obtain every bit of source code associated with software on the devices--one of the new legal requirements.

E-voting machines continue to generate security concerns and calls for reform. During the 2004 presidential election, officials acknowledged that glitches in some systems led to lost votes in a few states' tallies--including 4,500 in one North Carolina county.

Diebold, an Ohio-based company that makes automatic-teller machines as well, is also no stranger to controversy. Last year, California officials questioned the company on the integrity of its systems and recommended banning Diebold machines from the state.

In a court complaint filed last month in North Carolina, Diebold said the state's stringent new laws were unreasonable, arguing that it couldn't conceivably turn over the source code for all of the programs run by its machines, as it has no ownership over third-party programs, such as Windows CE. A judge threw out the complaint and cautioned the company that it would be penalized if it failed to comply with the laws. Just days later, the Board of Elections decided to certify Diebold and the other companies anyway.

Keith Long, a state voting systems manager, defended that decision in an interview with CNET, saying information about the systems from "independent testing authorities" was sufficient for certification. And furthermore, having concluded that "none" of the companies could meet the source-code requirements, elections officials decided to go ahead with the certifications on the grounds that the companies hand over all of their proprietary code and tell the state where to find third-party source code by a certain date.

The Board of Elections declined to comment on the suit Thursday. According to the EFF's Web site, a hearing is set for next Wednesday.