Friday, December 30, 2005

The Diebold Dilemma

How many of you feel a tad bit uneasy walking away from the voting machines without some type of proof of how you voted? I am not typically a conspiracy theorist, but I have to admit I felt a tad bit doubtful the first time I voted on the new machines in Mecklenburg County. Did my vote actually count or did some monster from the netherworld eat it?

I'm also not the most technically gifted person in the world and have more than a healthy amount of doubt about the accuracy of technology that I don't understand. I'm sure there are many who feel this way. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to trust the technology and those who design, manufacture and sell it if we want to live in the modern world. Evidently, some of our elected officials feel the same way and our legislature is requiring transparency in the coding of voting machines.

Coding, for the non-techies of the world, is basically computer language. A program works the way it works because of the coding. Why would you want the coding to be transparent? Basically, you want to make sure that someone hasn't programmed a voting machine to do something it isn't supposed to do. The real issue is more complex than I am making it sound, however, transparency of the coding is the heart of it.

All of this brings me to the Diebold dilemma. Diebold is refusing to share its coding saying that it doesn't own the rights to all of it. How can this be? Well, programmers share or sell code frequently. Someone else could very well own the rights to some of the coding or programming that Diebold is using. It doesn't necessarily mean they are hiding anything, but it does mean Diebold can't meet the standards set by our state.

What's the big deal? So, the state of North Carolina doesn't buy voting machines from Diebold. The big deal is that we are left with only one vendor who can sell voting machines in this state,
Election Systems and Software. It means that ES&S will have a monopoly in this state and anyone who has ever wanted to complain about their cable rates or programming knows that a monopoly isn't always a good thing. Diebold is still working feverishly to change this.

The letter from Diebold to N.C.'s State Board of Elections is printed in its entirety at
VoteTrustUSA. Diebold is basically claiming that there are no companies that will meet all of the requirements set by our state and they are requesting a special session of the legislature to try and remedy this situation. Diebold is offering to help North Carolina rewrite it's law.

DESI is prepared to work closely with the North Carolina State Board of Elections (“SBE”) in drafting a modification to Session Law 2005-323 that meets the true intent of the legislature while at the same time imposing reasonable requirements on all vendors that are capable of being met, and which will allow DESI to continue to support its loyal customers in the State of North Carolina.
Do we trust a vendor to rewrite a state law in order to tailor it around their product? While I don't think Diebold's intent is to deny North Carolinians of a fair and accurate election, I also don't think it's wise to allow them to help rewrite our laws to make life more convenient or profitable for them. This law was passed to protect the citizens of this state without regard to how inconvenient it might be to Diebold or any other company. Changing the law to suit Diebold or would set a dangerous precedent.

Whether you understand the underlying technical issues or not, this is something you need to care about. Each of us needs to walk out of the voting booth knowing that our vote counted.

Update: Many newspapers and online sources have information regarding the upcoming deadline for the purchase of voting machines. Most newspapers only keep their articles online for a few days. The North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting is the resource in N.C. that stays on top of developments in this area. The link to VoteTrustUSA is located above. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also has a great article from December 23. EFF has filed suit in N.C. to help uphold the election integrity laws.

Milly Watt has a diary at Daily Kos that discusses this and Targator at BlueNC has stayed on top of this issue as well.


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