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lected Official Has "Concerns" About Shelby County Voting Machines

 Updated October 25

By Andy Wise  WREG-TV

MEMPHIS He helps run their government.  He votes on their budget.

But Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham can't get the county election commission to answer a letter he wrote last week about the county's Diebold computer voting machines.

Willingham's letter mentioned "allegations" against the security and reliability of the Diebold machines in the wake of problems in California and Florida, problems Willingham wrote were "of great concern to every voter in Shelby County."

"When your computer goes down, does it cause you problems?" Willingham asks rhetorically. "Is anything lost? Have you ever been wiped out because you didn't have it backed up and saved?"

Critics sued Diebold in California over allegations that the company's machines exposed that state's elections to hackers and viruses.

The lawsuit, filed by California computer programmer Jim March and community activist Bev Harris, alleges Diebold's system uses uncertified software that is not secure. In April, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned the Canton, Ohio company's touch-screen TSx system in four counties Kern, San Diego, San Joaquin and Solano because of what he called "fraudulent actions by Diebold" and mandated the other 10 California counties that use touch-screen voting to either install a verifiable paper trail for electronic votes by November or meet 23 security measures before their systems would be allowed to run.

Shelby County Election Commissioner Maura Black Sullivan says Diebold had problems in California because its touch-screen systems there were Internet-based systems, an online network wide open for fraud. She insists the Diebold machines used in Shelby County's early voting are stand-alone machines.

"They're not even hooked together at your early voting site," says Sullivan. "So it's just a stand-alone machine that you vote at, and your vote stays right there in that machine."

Rich Holden, Commissioner and Secretary of the Shelby County Election Commission, says when each voter votes on a Diebold machine, their ballot applications are matched to the number of voters that vote on each machine at the end of every day of early voting. The machines are locked up with numbered seals each evening, then those numbers are checked every morning.

When the final polls close at 7 p.m. on election day, an independent accounting firm prints out the data from every machine from early voting and election day.

"They go through all the pieces of paper and all the electronic votes and make sure they all match," says Holden. "So there is a complete paper trail."

Shelby County's other voting machine, the Shouptronic, has been the county's election day machine since 1986. In 1998's primary, the Shouptronic's software crashed. Election commission employees hand-counted 800 to 900 absentee ballots misplaced in a computer meltdown.

Sullivan says since then, the commission has installed new redundancy systems and hired independent auditors to review every Shelby County vote, in both the Shouptronic and the Diebold machines.

"All of that is then reviewed again with the other internal voting tabulation mechanisms inside of each one of the machines, and they're all reviewed by the auditors the next day," she says.

Diebold spokesperson David Bear disputes the allegations against his company.

"There has never been not one factual security issue with (our touch-screen machines)," says Bear. "Even in California, during the Super Tuesday primary in March, we ran 55,000 touch-screens. The secretary of state did parallel monitoring and showed our touch-screens were 100 percent accurate."

Willingham says he's been told election commission employees have been ordered not to respond to his letter. Maybe it's because he's still fighting the commission in court over his loss to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in the 2002 mayoral race. Willingham has alleged there were irregularities in the election, despite the fact that Herenton won with almost 70 percent of the vote.

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