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Voting machine maker accused
State suit to allege Diebold made fraudulent claims

Paul Feist, San Francisco Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

Wednesday, September 8, 2004


Sacramento Attorney General Bill Lockyer said Tuesday he would sue electronic voting machine manufacturer Diebold Elections Systems for allegedly making fraudulent claims to Alameda County and the state about the security and reliability of voting machines the company sold the county.

Lockyer plans to join a lawsuit originally filed by electronic-voting watchdogs who claimed that Diebold provided Alameda County with software that was not federally certified and could be tampered with. The lawsuit, now pending in Alameda County Superior Court, seeks restitution of the nearly $12 million in taxpayer money used to purchase the touch-screen voting machines, many of which did not work properly in the March primary election.

Lockyer's office said it was ping a criminal investigation into Diebold, but that prosecutors had enough evidence to pursue a false claims lawsuit against the company.

"False claims cases involve lying to obtain payment of taxpayer dollars, or to avoid making payments to government entities,'' said Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar.

Diebold Vice President Thomas Swidarski said in a statement that the company is pleased that Lockyer found that there are no grounds for a criminal case.

"We fully cooperated with the state as it looked into the issues and have always believed that the attorney general would reach this conclusion,'' Swidarski said. "As for the intervention in the false claims case, the company is confident that the state's decision to intervene will aid in a fair and dispassionate examination of the issues raised in the case.''

Diebold's machines came under scrutiny in April when Secretary of State Kevin Shelley held hearings into problems reported with electronic voting machines. More than 40 percent of California's voters in the March election used electronic voting machines.

Alameda County poll workers in March reported problems with voter-card encoders at 20 percent of the county's voting sites. The encoders copy ballot variations, which are based on party registration, onto a plastic card that is then ed into the touch-screen voting machine, which then displays the correct ballot.

Some voters in Alameda County were told to use backup paper ballots, and others were told to come back later or were directed to another polling place. Similar problems were reported in San Diego County.

Shelley ordered upgrades to the encoders as well as other improvements that have been made in time for 10 counties to use the electronic voting machines in the November presidential election. He yanked state approval altogether for Diebold machines used in Solano, San Joaquin, Kern and San Diego counties.

The state had given conditional approval to the Diebold machines used in those counties in March even though they had not been federally certified. Diebold told officials that federal approval was imminent, but it still has not been granted. At the time, Shelley called the company's conduct "reprehensible'' and called on Lockyer to investigate.

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