December 9, 2005
Election Board selects Diebold and activists continue to raise questions
Kansas City voters will enter the electronic voting age in the summer of 2006 with the help of Diebold Election Systems.
Kansas City Election Board commissioners unanimously voted Dec. 8, to purchase two electronic voting machines from Diebold Election Systems, a division of Diebold Inc.
Commissioners selected DRE (direct-record entry) touch-screen machines and optical scanning machines at a cost of $2,029,294. Touch-screens allow voters to touch a spot next to candidates’ names or issues, while optical scans allow voters to mark an oval on paper ballots for the same categories. The computer counts the ballots.
"Diebold offered the best features along with the lowest price," KCEB Democratic Director of Elections Sharon Turner Buie said. "The DRE touch-screens are accessible to the disabled and the optical scans are paper-based, providing a voter-verifiable paper trail."
The KCEB, along with other states, faced a Jan. 1 deadline to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.
"HAVA will pay close to 100 percent of the cost, with the balance picked up by the city and county," Turner Buie said.
HAVA provides funds to all states to replace punch card voting systems and lever voting machines, and improve accessibility to polling places for the disabled community. States must implement the new systems by the first federal election in August 2006 said Turner Buie.
Four other companies — Accupoll, ES&S, Populex, and Sequoia — also submitted proposals to the KCEB but were eliminated for various reasons. All underwent a rigorous review process and had been certified by the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office. Diebold was the only company to send a representative to the meeting.
"Accupoll and Populex were eliminated early on because the systems are better suited for smaller jurisdictions, not large urban jurisdictions like Kansas City," Turner Buie said. "And ES&S was eliminated (the day of the selection meeting) because various aspects of the system did not meet the needs of the KCEB."
Sequoia was a serious contender but its proposal was over $200,000 more than Diebold said Turner Buie. She said she did not know why there was such a cost discrepancy.
This cost discrepancy has alarmed voting rights activist Ben Kjelshus (pronounced "Chelsus"), who also attended the board meeting.
"Here was Diebold really putting in a proposal that would be a loss for them financially. In a normal competitive, commercial sense, you don’t see such a discrepancy in offers," he said.
Kjelshus said voters should ask why Diebold would make such an offer.
"I surmise that Diebold has way deep pockets and a political agenda in the larger sense if it’s willing to come and make that kind of offer. It’s the privatization of voting systems and corporate control."
Kjelshus was among several Kansas Citians who presented written testimony challenging the purchase of electronic voting machines at a KCEB public hearing in October. He has called the use of electronic voting machines the "corporatization of the election system," citing documented electronic election malfunctions and concerns that electronic election data could be manipulated.
Critics nationwide have taken Diebold to task, most notably over a Bush-Cheney fundraising letter written by a Diebold CEO asserting he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver electoral votes for the president" in 2004. The CEO later said the endorsement was a personal one.
However, voting activists are quick to point out that some Diebold election machines malfunctioned in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election. In one instance, an Ohio precinct recorded more votes for Bush than actual votes cast.
The Associated Press recently reported that Diebold said it would withdraw from North Carolina’s selection process when the state insisted on more stringent safeguards, including placing the software code of voting systems in escrow.
Turner Buie said that while this report surprised her, she is confident with the board’s decision to proceed with Diebold.
"What’s happened in North Carolina, I can’t speak to that. In Missouri, Diebold has deposited its source code with the Secretary of State’s office. It has no bearing with us or what we’ve done," she said.
Kjelshus said the board’s decision to proceed with the purchase of electronic voting machines "was disappointing but not unexpected."
"It’s even more reason for citizen activists to keep pursuing the effort for voter transparency," he said.
Rhiannon Ross is an associate editor for eKC online. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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