California scrutinizes Diebold e-voting

Memory cards present security concerns that require additional evaluation, state officials say.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
2 min read
California election officials said this week that they can't certify Diebold's electronic voting systems without additional federal review.

In a letter (click for PDF) sent Tuesday to the embattled Ohio-based company, Elections Chief Caren Daniels-Meade said "significant unresolved security concerns" exist with the memory cards used by Diebold's systems. She ordered the company to submit the source code of programs associated with those cards for "immediate evaluation" by federal independent testing authorities (ITA).

"Once we have received a report from the federal ITA adequately analyzing this source code, in addition to the technical and operational specifications relating to the memory card and interpreter, we will expeditiously proceed with our comprehensive review of your application," Daniels-Meade wrote.

"We are at a critical crossroads for voting system technology," California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said in a statement. "Therefore, we must take every available step to ensure the security and integrity of every vote cast in this new electronic age."

Dave Byrd, Diebold's vice president of business operations, said the company looked forward to reviewing the requests and doing what was necessary to comply.

"We have always complied with what the state has requested of us, and will treat this new request in the same spirit of cooperation," he said in a statement.

Diebold ran into problems in California last year when a panel recommended banning some of its systems.

The most recent announcement came as states scramble to meet a Jan. 1 deadline for ensuring that their electronic voting machines meet standards outlined in the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

But government auditors have projected that at the current pace, the nation's electronic voting systems won't be fully secure and reliable in time for the 2006 congressional elections.

Diebold's woes don't end in California. Last week, elections officials in Leon County, Fla., announced plans to drop Diebold from its polling places after a Finnish security expert successfully tampered with a memory card in an optical scan machine without detection.

That same week, Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell, a magnet for scrutiny after revelations of his pro-Republican stance and campaign donations, abruptly submitted his resignation without comment.

The company is also on rocky ground in North Carolina, where a fair-elections advocate and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are challenging that state's recent certification of machines supplied by Diebold and two other e-voting companies.