Governor Warns of Crisis in Wake of Diebold 'Repair' Revelations

A so-called "technical refresher" which purportedly involved everyday maintenance procedures conducted on Diebold Election Systems electronic voting equipment in Maryland during the summer of 2005, included the replacement of motherboards on account of their ability to cause systems to freeze without warning, the Baltimore Sun reported yesterday.

But state voting officials were never apprised of the equipment replacement, said Giles W. Burger, chairman of the State Board of Elections, in an interview with the Sun, nor were they told that the cause of such freezes had been discovered by Diebold three years earlier.

The revelations yesterday prompted the state's Republican governor, Robert Ehrlich, Jr. -- who is running for re-election there, and is behind in the polls -- to pronounce yesterday that the voting situation is "approaching crisis proportions." There may not be enough absentee ballots, the Governor says, to service a growing number of voters who have become so distrustful of the electronic voting system that they may stay home on November 7.

A new state law allows Maryland voters to request absentee ballots for any reason, even if they're not technically absent. Diebold, incidentally, is the firm contracted to provide absentee ballots for Maryland. Ehrlich has reportedly asked the state elections chief, Linda Lamone -- whom he previously indicated he would fire, if he had the power to do so -- to find another supplier to fulfill outstanding absentee ballot requests in five of the state's 24 jurisdictions.

The news yesterday is just the latest in what's now a steady stream of negative events that call into question the integrity of Maryland's electronic voting equipment. During that state's 2004 elections, numerous reports of machine glitches kept final results from many precincts from being known for weeks after the vote.

Then, voters learned that researchers had been casting a skeptical eye on Diebold's AccuVote-TS systems for years, learning not only of design vulnerabilities but also deficiencies in the way the manufacturer managed its own system maintenance process. Voting machine source code, for instance, was found to be freely accessible from an anonymous FTP site.

Last week, diskettes that many believe were acquired from Diebold itself, and which are believed to contain voting machine source code, were mailed anonymously to a former Maryland state delegate, who was already an outspoken critic of the election system that was supposed to avert the disastrous consequences of the 2000 elections in Florida and other states.

The day after the Sun reported the anonymous diskettes mailing, a spokesperson for Diebold declared for the paper that the company was now certain its voting machines throughout Maryland were secure. In a statement, Diebold's president, David Byrd, commented about the software leak, "The availability of this software poses no threat to the safety, security and accuracy of elections in any jurisdiction using Diebold Election Systems voting machines."

The Sun's persistence in determining just what means Diebold used to justify its certainty of its system's and software's integrity, most likely led directly to yesterday's revelations.

The consistency of the bad news may actually be contributing to public confusion of the nature of the problem itself. An editorial in yesterday's Sun took Diebold to task, supposedly for refusing to reveal details about its source code, or to open it up to public scrutiny.

"There are lots of flaws in Maryland's system (including the hardware, as we have now learned)," columnist Mike Himowitz wrote yesterday. "But the worst is that the source code for the software that records your vote and mine is secret. You and I can't see it even though we paid for it...When the nerds among us try to explain why secret source code is so bad, people's eyes start to glaze over. Well, it's time to grow up, citizens. It's worth learning about if an honest election is even marginally important to you."

But the problem -- as we learned three years ago, and were reminded last week -- may actually be that the source code isn't as secret as it should be. In February 2003, a Diebold representative admitted to a reporter for the New Zealand Web site Scoop that not only did an FTP site make source code available for anonymous download, but also "replacement files" (i.e., software patches), which could not only be downloaded but surreptitiously substituted. "In fact, anyone with a modem could have hunkered over a computer to download, upload or slightly change and overwrite the files on Diebold's FTP site," Scoop wrote in 2003.

While all this was going on, IDG reporter Robert McMillan reported yesterday that he had discovered a slick, professional-looking Web site purporting to represent a firm called "Election Consultants," which appears to sell services guaranteeing paid clients of desired outcomes in electronically managed elections.

"The future of election management is today's reality," the site proclaims. "Election Consultants has pioneered breakthrough technology that provides unprecedented results in election outcomes. Most notably, our flagship products, SmartVote and VoteCorrect, deliver unparalleled outcome results that are guaranteed." A notice toward the end stipulates results can only be guaranteed where electronic voting machines are used.

Though McMillan spoke to a person who answered the site's toll-free number purporting to represent the company, other sources believe the site -- whose URL is "www.fixavote.com" -- to be either a carefully produced satire, or a promotional effort for some kind of upcoming dramatic production. Whether the premiere date of that production would fall before or after the November elections is unknown.

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