Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Diebold's Claims of Fix Fall Flat

On primary day, I reported that the electronic voter check-in system, called e-poll books, crashed and had to be rebooted when I went to vote. After it rebooted, the e-poll book reported that I had already voted even though I had not. Later reports revealed that this was hardly a unique experience. One friend who served as an election judge told me that the machines crashed around every 25 voters (the Sun reports 40 to 50).

Both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun report that Diebold claims to have figured out how to fix the "glitch". Despite having announced the fix, Diebold has yet to install the upgrade the 5,500 machines used by the state--another big task to accomplish before Election Day. Moreover, a public demonstration of the new and improved e-poll books did not exactly inspired confidence:

Linda H. Lamone, state administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, invited Diebold to show that the system is "100 percent perfect."

To do that yesterday, Diebold technicians showed what happened to an unmodified e-poll book after 40 to 50 voters had registered: An error message appeared on the screen, displaying the words "can not continue;" the screen went black; and the unit rebooted, as if a polling judge had just turned it on.

Despite all the problems, State Administrator Linda Lamone is still standing by her machine:

Lamone, who has long championed the company and its voting machines, said she was not disappointed in Diebold. "I love the technology. I'm disappointed we had the problems, but I'm heartened to see Diebold stepping up to the plate to come up with solutions," she said.

"If it doesn't work," she added, referring to the e-poll books, "we're going to pack them up and ship them back."

She and Diebold officials noted that the e-poll book is separate from Diebold's voting machines, which they said worked well.

Perhaps fortunately, the final decision on election technology for future elections will ultimately lie in the hands of the members of the next General Assembly and governor.

In related news, Marc Fisher explains how technicians who were supposed to help election judges troubleshoot problems on Election Day were hired on the cheap.