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AP INTERVIEW: Diebold CEO: Spotlight on E-voting business waning

M.R. KROPKO   Associated Press   28 April 2005

CANTON, Ohio - The leader of touch-screen voting machine maker Diebold Inc. said on Thursday that he believes the now extinguished spotlight of last year's contentious presidential election will help stabilize the company's elections machine business.

Last year, several states, including Ohio, delayed buying touch-screen voting machines because of concerns about security. Critics from across the nation focused on Diebold, some protesting last year's shareholders' meeting held eight months before the November election.

There were no protesters at Thursday's shareholders' meeting and the scrutiny on Diebold has seemed to wane since it came up with a way to have a secure paper trail for voters who choose to cast ballots electronically.

"People now have choices they can make in a calmer environment," chief executive Walden O'Dell told The Associated Press in an interview after the meeting. "If they want touch screens with printers, they can have them. If they want touch-screens without printers, they can have them. Or they can use optical scan because it's paper based."

"So I think this highly intense environment has relaxed somewhat, and in addition, we've reduced concerns greatly by having touch screens with voter verifiable paper receipts, which people can see and which stay in the machine and I think that satisfied many people," he said.

Diebold, whose business mainly is making ATMs and security systems, needs the calmness in its small but high-profile elections business.

Just last week, shares fell 10 percent after Diebold reported an 8.5 percent in first-quarter earnings and said earnings for the year would miss Wall Street estimates.

Diebold says its election systems business appears to be stabilizing due to projected improved sales in Ohio, which has gone forward with e-voting plans after the company addressed security concerns. Several other states, including Utah and Louisiana, have Diebold on their short lists of vendors to provide new voting machines required by federal law.

States must replace outdated voting systems by the first federal elections of 2006 under the Help America Vote Act.

Diebold shares opened up Thursday 22 cents at $48.57 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has been trading in a 52-week range of $43.88 to $57.81.

Diebold has about 13,000 employees worldwide.

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