- WASHINGTON -- Election officials
and computer scientists are increasingly concerned that touch-screen electronic
voting machines like the ones used in Georgia may be inaccurate and even
susceptible to sabotage.
- Among some Democrats, there is deep distrust developing
about the devices, particularly since a top executive in the voting machine
industry is a major fund-raiser for President Bush.
- Industry officials insist that electronic balloting is
reliable, accurate and secure and will help avert a repeat of the ballot-counting
fiasco that held up results in Florida and sent the 2000 presidential election
to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- "Electronic voting is a good thing," said David
Bear, spokesman for Ohio-based Diebold Inc., one of four companies that
dominate the voting machine industry.
- Diebold boasts a significant testimonial from Georgia's
top election official, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, who declared the state's
conversion to the system "a tremendous success."
- Georgia was the first state to adopt electronic voting
in every precinct, rolling out its system in the November 2002 election.
- Cox championed the $54 million touch-screen system after
learning the state had had even more uncounted votes during the 2000 election
- Electronic plot?
- The Diebold system, whose customers include Maryland,
California and Kansas, is at the heart of concerns that for months have
fueled dire conspiracy theories of a possible electronic coup d'etat.
- This fall the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0828-08.htmdisclosed
that Diebold's chief executive, Walden O'Dell, is one of Bush's top fund-raisers
and, in a letter to potential Bush donors, he had underscored his commitment
"to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes" to the Republicans.
- O'Dell has since expressed regrets for the remarks, saying
that while experienced in business, he is "a real novice" in
politics. Even so, he has no intention of stopping his fund-raising efforts
as a "Pioneer" and "Ranger," designations used by the
Bush campaign for elite fund-raisers who collect a minimum of $200,000
and $100,000, respectively. "I am one, and proud of it," O'Dell
said in a statement issued by Diebold's corporate headquarters.
- Democrats cry foul
- O'Dell easily qualifies as a Bush "Pioneer."
In July, for example, he had a fund-raiser at his home with Vice President
Dick Cheney that netted $500,000.
- Democrats cry foul. Presidential candidate Sen. John
Edwards of North Carolina today plans to call on Bush to return the money
O'Dell has raised for his campaign.
- "We now have touch-screen voting machines that some
people think are just as bad as a butterfly ballot," Edwards says
in a speech prepared for delivery to Florida Democrats. "What makes
this worse is that one of George W. Bush's fund-raising Pioneers said he
wanted to help Ohio deliver its electoral votes to George Bush."
- Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee, said, "Republicans have sunk to a stunning
- Traveling the 'Net
- The emerging theories of a conspiracy to rig the voting
tabulations in 2004 extend well beyond O'Dell's relationship with Bush
and other Republicans. The Internet is awash with Web sites devoted to
the notion, the most prominent being http://www.blackboxvoting.comwww.blackboxvoting.com,
with accounts about:
- * Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's upset victory
in 1996. He ran without disclosing that he had been CEO and chairman of
Election Systems & Software, which installed, programmed and operated
the state's voting machines. Hagel has denied any wrongdoing.
- * The unexpectedly easy Republican victories in Georgia's
2002 election for governor and U.S. Senate, where Diebold had installed
its system. Previously favored Democratic incumbents failed to win re-election.
- Yet Bobby Kahn, who was chief of staff to ousted Democratic
Gov. Roy Barnes, said in a recent e-mail to the Journal-Constitution that
he would "love to believe" in a "computer meltdown or a
grand conspiracy" causing Barnes' defeat, but rejects both notions.
"The count was accurate," Kahn said of the vote.
- Computer scientists and voting machine experts are less
concerned about O'Dell's political affiliations than about the integrity
of the technology being marketed by Diebold and its competitors.
- Tests reveal risks
- Tests of computerized systems in Ohio this week did little
to reassure skeptics. Detroit-based Compuware Corp., in a technical analysis
of the four major voting machine manufacturers, identified 57 potential
security risks in the software and hardware tested.
- The findings prompted Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth
Blackwell to delay plans for having a computerized system in place for
the 2004 presidential election. "I will not place these voting devices
before Ohio's voters until identified risks are corrected and system security
is bolstered," Blackwell said.
- For months, computer experts have been warning that the
new voting machines are susceptible to the kinds of foul-ups -- undervotes
and misvotes, for example -- that led to the 2000 Florida election debacle.
- Computerized voting systems also may be vulnerable to
hackers or scheming programmers bent on stealing an election, some experts
- A hacker could add votes to an individual voting terminal
and a programmer could insert a "Trojan horse" program with a
hidden code that could change vote totals, then cover its tracks, it has
- A group of experts recently formed the <http://www.votingintegrity.org/National
Committee for Voting Integrity to draw public attention to their concerns.
Some of the voting tabulation technologies being considered by various
states "pose a significant risk to the integrity of the democratic
process in the United States," the committee warned.
- Staff writer Duane Stanford contributed to this article.
- © 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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