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State attorney general joins lawsuit on voting machines

By Kate Folmar

San Jose Mercury News Sacramento Bureau  08 September 2004

SACRAMENTO - Attorney General Bill Lockyer on Tuesday decided to take over a false-claims lawsuit against the manufacturer of a touch-screen voting system purchased in California.

Lockyer joined a suit filed in November by whistle-blowers who charged that Diebold Election Systems sold the state faulty balloting equipment that could make California elections vulnerable to software glitches or hacking.

Additionally, the attorney general closed a criminal investigation against the Ohio-based company without pressing charges.

Lockyer's move throws the state's weight behind the activists' false-claims suit. He took action after his investigators found ``sufficient evidence of them defrauding the state'' by providing the electronic voting systems, said spokesman Tom Dresslar. Alameda County also joined the suit.

``Not telling the truth can be more than just misrepresenting facts, but it's also omitting facts, trying to hide the ball, so you can get taxpayer money undeservedly,'' Dresslar said.

The lawsuit was initially filed by computer programmer Jim March and activist Bev Harris, who sought the state's involvement. It seeks reimbursement for Diebold equipment purchased in California, with March and Harris eligible for a share.

In a statement, Diebold Senior Vice President Thomas W. Swidarski said the company was pleased that the attorney general would not file criminal charges. The state's involvement in a civil suit, the statement continued, should ``aid in a fair and dispassionate examination of the issues raised in the case.''

Diebold has been criticized for its paperless balloting systems in California, particularly one sold to four counties Kern, San Diego, San Joaquin and Solano before it was approved by federal testers.

In April, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned the use of the uncertified machines in those four counties after a state investigation found that Diebold put the March primary at risk by selling an untested and poorly functioning system.

Ten other counties, including Santa Clara and Alameda, can use their electronic voting systems only if they meet strict security measures, such as providing a paper receipt to voters and disconnecting the machines from phone lines and the Internet.

The probe also found that Diebold misled state officials about federal approval of the system.

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