California nixes e-voting

California's secretary of state has decertified all touch screen voting systems in the state, and has asked the attorney's general office to consider criminal prosecution of Diebold Inc.'s Diebold Election Systems division.

The secretary, Kevin Shelley, announced the decisions late Friday.

"We are taking every step possible to assure all Californians that their ballots will be counted accurately," Shelley said.

Shelley banned one type of Diebold machine, the TSX, in the four counties that had used it. In the 10 other California counties using touch screen systems, Shelley decertified the systems and said counties that want to use those machines in the November election must implement a voter-verified paper record system or meet 23 security measures designed to minimize fraud or error.

He also accused Diebold, one of several companies that make electronic voting machines, of trying "to pull a fast one." The company's aggressive and persistent marketing led California counties to install systems that had not been tested, qualified by the federal government or certified by the state, he said. Diebold officials then lied about the status of the machines, Shelley alleged.

"We will not tolerate the deceitful conduct of Diebold, and we must send a clear message to the rest of the industry," he said in recommending prosecution.

California officials are developing standards for a voter-verified paper trail and expect to have them finished by May 30, Shelley said.

In a statement issued Friday, Diebold officials said they remain committed to California customers. The company did not directly address the allegations.

"We have confidence in our technology and its benefits, and we look forward to helping administer successful elections in California and elsewhere in the country in November," said Mark Radke, director of marketing for Diebold Election Systems, in the statement.

The TSX machines had been granted conditional certification for the 2004 primary election, according to Diebold officials.

Opponents of touch screen machines believe they are not secure, are not reliable and provide no mechanism for a meaningful recount of votes. Supporters, including industry groups and advocates of the disabled, argue that the machines are more accurate, more accessible to the handicapped and guard against voter errors that can invalidate ballots.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who has been trying to pass legislation that would require voter-verified paper receipts, praised Shelley's decision.

"California Secretary of State Shelley has made a very prudent decision that will go a long way to protecting the votes cast by Californians in the November election," Holt said in a written statement. "His decision was based on the unanimous recommendation of an advisory committee composed of election experts and officials who thoroughly studied the problem and realized that it could not be fixed without requiring a paper audit trail. I think his decision will be a major boost to my efforts in Congress to pass legislation that would require all voting systems to have a voter-verified paper trail by November."

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