Friday, October 06, 2006

Northwestern Editorial: County Board Should Question Diebold

The Northwestern is right on in this analysis. Maybe we should have had a real forum and not a sales presentation:

Editorial: Final tally: County fails to deliver on high-tech election equipment

You buy a new DVD player. It's the one with high-quality images that will flow right into your older TV set. So, you get home, anxiously rip open the box, hook it up and press play.

The DVD movie inside is spinning and playing. But there's no picture to the TV screen. Something is wrong. It isn't working like the literature said it would, and it's not your fault.

Wouldn't you be a little miffed if that happened to you?

The problem Winnebago County and Wisconsin had with touch-screen voting machines is about just as frustrating… if you're willing to acknowledge something went wrong, that is.

On Sept. 12, Winnebago County voters and even county board members learned the hard way that the so-called "compatibility" of Diebold Elections Systems' touch-screen voting machines wasn't all that. County and municipal clerks statewide knew scanned paper ballots vs. touch screen ballots would not be compatible in the primary election and would require the manual entering of data collected by the touch-screens.

The touch screen election technology Winnebago County and other counties spent federally-mandated millions on wouldn't flow vote totals into county databases pooling all votes into results. So, clerks typed in the touch-screen totals recorded on paper records.

That's not how Diebold sold it to the full county board.

This morning, a county board committee will take up one skeptical supervisor's call to deny Diebold payment for 50 touch-screen machines. Supervisor Jef Hall argues voters didn't get what they paid for.

It's a debate worth having.

Winnebago County Clerk Sue Ertmer vouches for the system and Diebold. The Nov. 7 general election, she said, will work. Diebold's touch-screen machines will be tested ahead of time. They will "modem" vote totals over phone lines and flow those results into those tallied by conventional optical scan machines – the ones that swallow and tally most voters' ballots.

No hand tabulating. No potential human errors.

But there are still some questions worth asking this morning, including:

E Why didn't our clerks, Diebold or even the State Elections Board's executive director make clear that the compatibility issue would bog down the Sept. 12 election process? One is left to assume that they dared not broach a compatibility shortcoming when "compatibility" was Diebold's chief selling point to Winnebago County.

E Why did clerks in populous municipalities of St. Croix, Chippewa, Dunn and Waushara counties choose non-Diebold touch-screens to complement their Diebold optical scan machines? They have the same ballot-scan stuff Winnebago has, but, they chose a different company for touch screens. Apparently, they didn't buy or worry about Diebold's compatibility line.

There's been much ado about the electronic security of Diebold equipment. An election integrity watchdog has filed a petition with the State Elections Board asking all touch-screens be shelved due to their hack-ability, if you will.

But if Winnebago County's Diebold dilemma is taken seriously, it's not nefarious election hackers we need to worry about.

It's the sales pitches of companies selling us the goods.

Final Thought: There are fair questions to ask of the folks who sold us on the new voting technology we've got.

One correction to this, however. The meeting is this afternoon at 5:00PM, not this morning.



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