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Partisanship plagues new technology

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by Matt Paulson
Editor in Chief

With continuing concerns about punch-card ballot chads hanging over the California recall election, new concerns have been raised over the electronic voting machines meant to replace the existing systems.

Last week the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals postponed the recall election over the issue of punch-card ballots, only to overturn the decision on Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the original case to court, maintaining that until six counties are able to replace their outdated voting systems, the show must not go on.

Chairman of the History and Political Science Department at the University of La Verne and Political Science Professor Richard Gelm said postponing the recall as a measure to make the vote totals more accurate is too drastic.

“I think that delaying the election adds to the disease,” Gelm said.

The “disease” is the idea that the United States is not pure democracy. America attempts to get as close to pure democracy as possible through the vehicle of election. These elections, however, to varying degrees, are inevitably erroneous. No ballots or elections are perfect, Gelm said.

But, these problems should be fixed post-election rather than postponing the election to remedy them before, he said.

Aaron Thompson, communications director for the College Democrats of America, said none of this should have ever needed to take place.

“The recall is just a bad idea from the get-go,” he said.

Thompson backed Gov. Gray Davis and continued to say that California is wasting an undue amount of money on an unneeded recall, and the election as a whole is “creating more problems for the future of politics.”

An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in response to Tuesday’s decision is possible; however, the ACLU does not plan on proceeding with the issue.

If the vote is close, the six counties in question will undergo a recount, and all the issues that were present in Florida in 2000 will once again surface.

No matter what the outcome of the California recall debacle, electronic voting machines are just around the corner for America.

The Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002, in response to the 2000 Bush vs. Gore fiasco, is an effort to provide states the funds necessary to phase out punch card voting systems.

Ohio is a front runner in establishing and implementing the new technology.

Earlier this month, four manufacturers were approved as possible providers of the new voting machines.

Of the four manufacturers, Diebold Election Systems, a part of Diebold, Inc. of North Canton, Ohio has been chosen.

The other three manufacturers approved by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell were Election Systems & Software Inc. of Omaha, Neb.; Maximus/Hart Intercivic/DFM Associates; and Sequoia voting systems of Oakland, Calif., who was released from the list and later reinstated after filing a lawsuit.

Originally, the goal was to implement these machines into the 2004 Ohio presidential primary election. However, concerns of the availability of the necessary funding and security precautions may inhibit such a rapid implementation.

Security with the new machines is a serious issue. In essence, the new voting machines are simply computers. This leaves them vulnerable to any qualified hacker throughout the world that feels like rigging an election.

Compounding this problem is non-existence of a backup paper ballot.

In July, a report by Johns Hopkins University’s Information Security Institute voiced other serious flaws in Diebold’s technology.

According to the report, “Voters can trivially cast multiple ballots with no built-in traceability, administrative functions can be performed by regular voters, and the threats posed by insiders such as poll workers, software developers and even janitors, is even greater.”

Diebold has said that it would combat security issues through the performance of routine checks by poll workers.

Diebold has also faced scrutiny following the wording of an invitation from its Chief Executive Walden O’Dell to a Republican fundraiser at his Columbus home.

In the invitation, O’Dell stated that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president next year.”

Although O”Dell has apologized for the wording of the invitation, he has stated that he will continue to support the GOP and President Bush.

“That’s a Florida waiting to happen,” said Bob Mulholland, campaign adviser for the Democratic Party of California, in response to O’Dell’s position in Diebold, Inc. and his ties with the GOP.

Wintemute disputed the claim that O’Dell could manipulate the vote.

“I don’t think that’s possible, and I don’t know that it’s a valid argument,” he said. Wintemute continued to say that the voting machines will be “accurate regardless of who supplies them.”

Furthermore, Wintemute went on to say that O’Dell was simply expressing his opinion, something he holds the right to do under the First Amendment.

Diebold has been providing security systems for nearly 145 years.

The company is in charge of safeguarding the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Diebold also provides security for the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian Institution.

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