- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

A request that Maryland’s new touch-screen voting network include printouts might have come too late because state officials already have signed a $55.6 million contract that includes no such backup system.

“That was not part of the contract price we negotiated with Maryland,” said Mark Radke, director of marketing for Diebold Election Systems Inc., a Diebold subsidiary. “The voter verification [paper trail] was not discussed.”

The push toward electronic voting has been fueled by Congress’ Help America Vote Act of 2002, which provided $2.5 billion to help states improve voting technology. The act was passed after the 2002 presidential election — the results of which were delayed after problems in Florida involving a voting system that included punch cards.

Critics want the new machines to produce paper receipts of each vote cast in case equipment fails. Their demand has been fueled by a Johns Hopkins University study over the summer that found hackers could cast multiple votes for one candidate.

“Other vendors are moving to address concerns for a paper trail, but Diebold seems to be doing a corporate gloss-over,” said Linda Schade, director of Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland.

State election officials say they’re trying to negotiate with Diebold to get machines upgraded, but also say they do not know yet how much the improvements would cost taxpayers.

“We’ve sent [Diebold] an e-mail asking how much that will cost,” said Joseph Torre, the Maryland State Board of Elections’ director of voting systems and contract procurement.

Mr. Torre said state officials never asked for the printout technology because “there are no standards on it.”

Mr. Torre said: “Once we get the standards written and the changes are approved, we will certainly implement it.”

Mr. Radke declined to say how much that will cost state taxpayers.

“At this point in time, it’s difficult to determine what the costs would be because we don’t have the full parameters,” he said.

Though questions remain about who will pay for machine upgrades in Maryland, other localities have insisted on and received free upgrades from Diebold.

“We had that work built into our contract,” said Sally McPherson, the San Diego County registrar of voters.

Three weeks ago, the county awarded Diebold a $28 million contract to supply 10,000 voting machines. The machines will include produce printout or paper trail technology by 2006.

The Maryland contract — which is more expensive — has no such provision.

Diebold will supply 11,000 voting machines to Maryland for $55.6 million under terms of the state contract announced in July. Maryland bought 5,000 machines for $17 million in March 2002.

Several lawmakers have sponsored legislation mandating that new touch-screen voting machines include printout capability, saying voters should be able to verify their ballots and election officials should be able to double-check results in cases of a dispute.

In May, U.S. Rep. Rush D. Holt, New Jersey Democrat, sponsored a bill requiring all voting machines to produce backup paper records in time for the presidential election this year.

Maryland Delegate Karen S. Montgomery, Montgomery Democrat, has proposed similar state legislation.

Meanwhile, Diebold executives say they are planning a marketing blitz in Maryland in coming months to counter what they view as bad publicity.

Mr. Radke said the company’s voter-outreach program will consist of billboards and signs, and setting up booths in shopping malls and grocery stores.

“We’d like to have a large number of voters use the equipment with a sample ballot,” he said.

Critics say Diebold’s advertising plan does not surprise them.

The company is “under a lot or pressure in Maryland,” said Kevin Zeese, co-director at Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland. “A done deal is becoming undone very quickly.”

Diebold is also facing criticism after internal company e-mails obtained by computer hackers were posted online on several Internet sites. One memos suggests the company should charge high prices if Maryland officials insist on voter receipts.

“That was internal information,” Mr. Radke said. “It was unfortunately made public because of hacked information. It certainly did not reflect our position.”

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