Fresh from

RALEIGH, N.C. – One of the nation’s leading suppliers of electronic voting machines may decide against selling new equipment in North Carolina after a judge declined Monday to protect it from criminal prosecution should it fail to disclose software code as required by state law.

Diebold Inc., which makes automated teller machines and security and voting equipment, is worried it could be charged with a felony if officials determine the company failed to make all of its code —some of which is owned by third-party software firms, including Microsoft Corp. —available for examination by election officials in case of a voting mishap.

The requirement is part of the minimum voting equipment standards approved by state lawmakers earlier this year following the loss of more than 4,400 electronic ballots in Carteret County during the November 2004 election. The lost votes threw at least one close statewide race into uncertainty for more than two months.


Diebold can bitch and moan all they want, but this is a good thing.  Black-box voting machines do not do democracy any favors.  The rules surrounding voting machines should be very simple:


  • The code must be available for inspection by the state.
  • The box must provide an easily readable receipt for voters to verify.
  • The votes counted should be the verified receipts, not mysterious entries in a local file on the voting machine itself.


Sounds to me like, by my own personal test of what makes a "good" voting machine, Diebold fails before they get past the first hurdle.  Claiming that they can’t be held responsible because the boxes use other companies’ code that they can’t reveal simply should not hold water – and didn’t, thankfully, when it went to a court of law.  If they want to sell a product, they should be willing to stand behind their product.  If they can’t speak for third parties but they do want to sell a product that enables (or disables) something as important as voting, if they really want to be serious about being in that business at all, they should be willing to build the boxes from the ground up so that they can continue to stand behind their product.


Is there anything about that a company could seriously find unfair?  Hell, North Carolina’s law is considerably more generous to the sellers than I would be –  after all, they’re just requiring that the code be held in escrow for examination after any questions are raised.  Me, I’d want the code in my hands and positive assessments from as many impartial experts as I could round up before one of these was ever unveiled in a polling place. 


Ah, but we all remember that Diebold is headed by a Republican fundraiser who, last year, swore he was "committed to delivering Ohio’s electoral votes to President Bush."  Now, that’s the sort of statement any enthusiastic volunteer or donor would say.  The problem is, it was said by a guy who makes fucking voting machines.  It’s a relatively young conspiracy theory, but it’s one with some meat on its bones:  the head of Diebold, Wally O’Dell, was on the list of "Pioneers & Rangers," ruggedly doughy white guys who promised to raise $100,000 or more for Bush’s reelection campaign last year.  So when Diebold balks that they can’t comply if they have to open their code to inspection in the case of "irregularities," then frankly I think our state benefits from having lost a vendor whose commitment to transparency and vote security is at best questionable and who is, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, irrationally fidgety around questions of accountability both political and technical. 


The state has plenty of other choices.  Diebold makes it sound like we won’t have any voting machines at all if we ask them to accept responsibility for the ones they provide us – even after a Diebold machine’s malfunction was what threw the Secretary of Agriculture race into the courts last year – but that’s simply false.  What we won’t have is any of their machines screwing up a race with no way to determine whether elections using them were actually fair.  If you ask me, that’s not a loss, it’s a gain.