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Maryland's Republican Governor Issues Devastating Blow to Diebold!

Written by Subject: Voting - Election Integrity
Maryland's Republican Governor Issues Devastating Blow to Diebold!

Calls for Paper Ballots, Decries Lack of Security, 1000% Increase in Maintenance Cost for Diebold Voting System!

In Letter to Election Board, Guv of Diebold's Model State Declares He 'No Longer Has Confidence in Their Ability to Conduct Fair and Accurate Elections'.

Maryland was the "model state" for Diebold. It was amongst the first to roll out a near state-wide adoption of the new paperless Diebold DRE (touch-screen) voting machines after the 2000 election.

Diebold plowed millions into advertising campaigns across the state in order to declare the dawn of their new electronic voting age. "It's Here!" screamed billboards on buses, billboards, mall kiosks and television commercials -- "Maryland's Better Way to Vote".

Diebold's dream has become a nightmare for the once-great company.

As of yesterday, and a letter from the Governor [PDF] of the state obtained by The BRAD BLOG, indications are that the dream may soon be on the way towards a crashing and fitting end.

In the letter sent by Maryland's Republican governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. to the State Board of Elections on Wednesday, he declares that he "no longer [has] confidence in the State Board of Elections’ ability to conduct fair and accurate elections in 2006."

Citing the "widespread national concern about the reliability and security of electronic voting systems," the decertification and denial of certification of Diebold around the country, and the need to "get aggressive in responding to citizens' concerns over public confidence in the elections system," Ehrlich says it's time to demand paper ballots once again in the State of Maryland.

"It is my personal belief," writes Ehrlich in a letter to BoE Chairman, Gilles Burger, "that the voters of Maryland should be allowed to vote a paper ballot or have a voter verification paper-trail to electronic voting as reassurance to voters that their votes are being accurately cast."

In his excoriating letter to Burger, the Governor goes on to cite the 78% increase in base cost for the system over original estimates and the -- sit down for this -- "1000% increase for estimates of the annual maintenance costs for this system."

"The cost of Maryland’s Diebold voting machines has skyrocketed as our confidence in the system has plummeted," wrote the Governor.

Finally, the letter concludes with a brutal condemnation of the MD Elections Administrator, Linda Lamone, charging that her work and that of her staff, has been "primarily on behalf of partisan legislators and their interests and not on the interests of the citizens of Maryland."

Lamone, who is currently President of the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED) has been a champion of Diebold's paperless touch-screen machines in the state. She recently testified to the state Senate that there was not enough time or money to add "voter-vefied paper trails" to Maryland's touch-screen machines prior to the 2006 election. As well, she has maintained for years that the system is safe, reliable and secure. Those claims are not well-founded.

An internal review by the state Elections Board after the 2004 election titled "Lessons Learned" [PDF] reveals that "189 voting units (7%) of units deployed failed on Election Day. An additional 122 voting units (or 5%) were suspect based on number of votes captured."

Those documented failures, of course, are just the ones we know about. In Leon County, Florida, when Diebold machines were hacked last December, it was done without a trace being left behind.

Washinton Post's Thursday coverage of Ehrlich's letter quotes him as telling reporters, "Maryland is not prepared to conduct an election."

Some Democrats in the Maryland Senate, however, are critical of Ehrlich who, they point out, had previously blocked efforts to include "voter-verified paper trails" on Maryland's paperless touch-screen machines.

That, however, was several months, and many "Diebold hacks" ago. Despite Diebold spokesman David "Baghdad" Bear's predictable response that there is still nothing to worry about and these machines work just great! -- there is most definitely something to worry about and the machines are terrible. Democrats in Maryland would be wise to recognize that, and be wary of getting lost in partisan politics, even if they were the ones responsible for deploying these crappy systems across the state in the first place.

The BRAD BLOG cannot overstate the devastating impact of Ehrlich's letter on the future of Diebold's Electronic Voting Machine hopes for this country. And it comes not a moment too soon.

The entire 4-page letter from Ehrlich is here [PDF]. Extended "must read" selections follow...

February 15, 2006

Chairman Gilles Burger

Maryland State Board of Elections

P. O. Box 6486

151 West Street, Suite 200

Annapolis, MD 21401-0486

Dear Chairman Burger:

As you are aware, there has been widespread national concern about the reliability and security of electronic voting systems. Many states have decertified Diebold voting machines, including those similar to the ones used in Maryland, because certain components were never subjected to federal testing. In light of these recent national decertifications and the Maryland General Assembly’s decision to override my vetoes of bills implementing early voting and allowing voters to cast ballots anywhere in the state, I no longer have confidence in the State Board of Elections’ ability to conduct fair and accurate elections in 2006.

California, Pennsylvania, and dozens of local jurisdictions recently have decertified or denied certification to the Diebold voting machines pending further testing by federal authorities, citing, among other concerns, the potential for manipulation of election results due to the susceptibility to tampering of the vote-counting memory cards. In response, the Independent Testing Authority (ITA) has been reviewing Diebold voting systems and their electronic components for almost two months and has not released any findings. The State Administrator issued a letter to Diebold requesting daily status reports on the testing, but to my knowledge, no information has been shared with the State Board of Elections members, the Administration or the General Assembly about the implications for Maryland with regard to this testing.

It is imperative that I receive accurate information on the potential consequences that these test results may have on Maryland’s ability to conduct fair and accurate elections this year. In discussions with my staff, you have stated that members of the State Board of Elections have not received regular updates on the testing controversy. I believe that it is time for the Board to get aggressive in responding to citizens’ concerns over public confidence in the elections system.

In addition to the lack of confidence he declares in the entire system, Ehrlich goes on to describe the sky-rocketing cost of maintaining the system:

I also continue to be troubled by the rapidly escalating costs of election administration in Maryland, especially in comparison to fiscal estimates that were prepared for the General Assembly. In 2001, Governor Glendening signed House Bill 1457 requiring the State Board of Elections to select and implement a uniform statewide voting system. At that time, the General Assembly’s fiscal note for House Bill 1457 estimated that the total cost would be $36,890,000. The actual cost, which has been financed by the State Treasurer was $65,564,674 – an almost 78 % increase from the original cost estimate. However, this misjudgment pales in comparison to the 1000% increase for estimates of the annual maintenance costs for this system. The 2001 fiscal note estimated such maintenance would be $858,000. For the upcoming fiscal year, the State Board of Elections requested $9,528,597 for these costs. The cost of Maryland’s Diebold voting machines has skyrocketed as our confidence in the system has plummeted.

In 2005, the State Board of Elections provided a fiscal estimate of $175,000 for the State costs associated with an early voting program, which will now be implemented because the General Assembly overrode my veto. Astonishingly, the State Administrator recently submitted a supplemental budget request that increases these statewide costs from $175,000 to $11.5 million.

Finally, after a list of questions about Diebold's touch-screen and optical-scan machines, the status of their testing by the Independent Testing Authority (ITA) -- which is only "independent" if you believe a "testing authority" should be selected, coordinated and funded by the very companies whose equipment they are responsible for testing -- in light of the Leon County, FL hack, and the possibility of complete Federal decertification of Diebold Voting Machines before the 2006 elections, Ehrlich concludes by issuing a no-uncertain-terms rebuke of Lamone and her staff:

Finally, I want to express my disappointment with the State Board of Elections’ staff. The State Board of Elections is intended to be an independent, non-partisan agency and should not take positions on partisan election law issues. While I expect the Elections Administrator and her staff to testify on all issues relating to the administration of elections as directed by their Board, it has become evident that they have been working primarily on behalf of partisan legislators and their interests and not on the interests of the citizens of Maryland. A recent legislative briefing revealed actions by a staff member of the Board of Elections where he was surreptitiously advocating to override the Governor’s veto in direct opposition with the Board’s position. The recurring lack of judgment by the State Board of Elections’ staff cannot not be tolerated. I urge the State Board of Elections to restore the independence and fairness of the elections office; otherwise we risk losing public confidence in Maryland's election processes.

Very truly yours,

Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.