Bias in the voting box?

The controversy over Diebold Inc.'s subsidiary Diebold Election Systems touch screen voting machines has led to several allegations that various parties have conflicts of interest.

Aviel Rubin, the Johns Hopkins University computer science professor who led the initial research, served on the technical advisory board of VoteHere Inc. while he studied the Diebold source code. Rubin resigned the post in August and returned his stock options to the company. Rubin said it was never an active relationship, and that the university determined there was no conflict. However, he admitted in an August 17 statement that he should have disclosed the information when his team released its report.

Meanwhile, David Dill, a computer scientist at Stanford University who runs a Web site called www.verifiedvoting.org, in order to call attention to the issue, criticized a report that Science Applications International Corp. performed for the state of Maryland, sparked by the Rubin report. SAIC holds a standing contract to perform information technology analyses for the state when needed, and Dill said he believes their risk assessment downplayed weaknesses in the system out of deference to the Maryland governor's office, which was already contracted to buy the machines before ordering the report.

Benjamin Haddad, SAIC's senior vice president, fired back, saying it is Dill who is not being objective. "There is no validity to it. He has an agenda," Haddad said. "He's very active in pushing that point of view. Our people just do good, sound technical work."

And Diebold Inc. CEO Walden O'Dell raised eyebrows in August, a month after the Rubin report, when he wrote a Republican fund raising letter pledging that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president next year." Diebold Inc. is based in Canton, Ohio.

By September, a chastened O'Dell told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "I never imagined that people could say that just because you've got a political favorite that you might commit this treasonous felony atrocity to try to change the outcome of an election. I wouldn't and couldn't."

O'Dell emphasized to the newspaper that the election systems subsidiary is separate from the rest of the company and is based in Texas, run by its own executives and accounting for only $100 million of Diebold's $2.1 billion annual revenues.

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