Calif. settles with Diebold

The voting machine maker will pay the state $2.6 million to settle claims that the company misled California officials about the security of its products.

Proposed settlement

A maker of touch-screen voting machines has agreed to pay $2.6 million to settle a lawsuit with California, company and state officials announced. Diebold officials reached the settlement agreement on behalf of its subsidiary, Diebold Election Systems.

Bill Lockyer, California's attorney general, said Diebold officials misled state leaders about the security and certification of its products to get payments from the state.

"There is no more fundamental right in our democracy than the right to vote and have your vote counted," Lockyer said in a statement. "In making false claims about its equipment, Diebold treated that right, and the taxpayers who bought its machines, cavalierly. This settlement holds Diebold accountable and helps ensure the future quality and security of its voting systems."

Diebold's name has become synonymous with electronic voting, even though several other companies also make touch-screen voting machines and vote tabulators. It was Diebold's code that computer scientists first raised security concerns about, and the company's chief executive officer, Walden O'Dell, has been an active Republican supporter who once promised in a fund-raising letter to deliver Ohio's electoral votes for President Bush. Consequently, e-voting skeptics have viewed the company with suspicion.

Diebold has had a rocky relationship with California officials, too. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertified one of the company's products. Other Diebold machines caused trouble in some precincts in the primary election earlier this year and in the Nov. 2 general election. Some machines failed to start, forcing some polling places to open late or use paper ballots instead.

Under the proposed settlement, still pending final approval, Diebold must:

Pay for the ballots and optical scanning equipment used during the Nov. 2 general election in Kern, San Joaquin and San Diego counties because the secretary of state had banned the use of the Diebold machines installed in those counties.

Pay for the cost of storing electronic representations of each ballot cast on touch-screen voting units in Alameda, Plumas and Los Angeles counties.

Pay for tamper-resistant tape and 750 expanded memory cards in Alameda County, at the request of county officials.

Install upgraded touch-screen firmware in Alameda, Plumas and Los Angeles counties, and upgraded vote tabulation software in all counties using Diebold voting systems, at company expense.

Replace hard-coded supervisor passwords with passwords that can be changed and provide the needed instructions and training to make sure that election officials know how to change the passwords.

Replace hard-coded encryption keys with keys that county officials can program.

Be prepared to reconfigure vote tabulation software for better security when requested by county officials or provide training so county officials can reconfigure the software themselves.

The settlement will prevent Diebold officials from connecting voting systems to certain networks and transmitting official election results via those networks, and it will forbid the downloading of any software or firmware via the networks.

Company officials also must provide documentation from independent federal testing authorities to California's secretary of state on demand, as well as information related to the development, testing, installation and operation of its voting systems.

Thomas Swidarski, senior vice president of strategic development and global marketing for Diebold, said the company settled the suit to avoid the distraction and cost of prolonged litigation and the company's prime goal is to continue doing business with California officials.

"While we believe Diebold has strong responses to the claims raised in the suit," he said in a statement, "we are primarily interested in building an effective and trusting relationship with California election officials so that we can work together in building election solutions that address the state's needs."

NEXT STORY: GAO ponders national indicators

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