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Diebold Quietly Repaired Vote Machines

Company quietly fixes screen freezing component flaw in several thousand machines used in Maryland.

(Baltimore) Diebold Election Systems quietly replaced flawed components in several thousand Maryland voting machines in 2005 to fix a "screen-freeze" problem the company had discovered three years earlier, according to published reports Thursday.

State Board of Elections Chairman Gilles W. Burger said Diebold's failure to fully inform board members of the repairs at the time raises questions about whether the company violated its state contracts.

"This demonstrates the level of contractor oversight that Diebold requires," Burger told The (Baltimore) Sun. "On Monday, I'm going to ask our attorneys to report back to me if there was any violation of the contract and what financial remedies are available to me."

The screen freezes prompted Diebold, a division of ATM maker Diebold Inc., to replace motherboards on 4,700 machines in Allegany, Dorchester, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, The Washington Post reported. Those counties introduced the machines in 2004 in the first phase of Maryland's transition to a uniform electronic voting system.

The unpredictable freezes don't cause votes to be lost, officials said, but they confuse voters and election judges who sometimes wonder whether votes cast on a frozen machine will be counted.

The screen freezes are unrelated to problems in September's primary, when Diebold's electronic voter-registration machines rebooted without warning in every Maryland precinct. The rebooting was caused by a software defect, which Diebold says has been corrected.

Both newspapers based their reports partly on documents obtained by the activist group TrueVoteMD, whose members have sued the state to make the voting system more secure. Documents obtained by the group's attorneys reveal details about who knew about the problem, and when.

According to an internal Diebold e-mail, the company temporarily stopped producing the voting machines on March 11, 2002, after reports that the units -- the same kind that were delivered to Maryland that year -- were malfunctioning.

Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Diebold in Maryland, told The Sun the company stopped production to fix the problem, then tested every motherboard when assembly was restarted. Maryland wasn't notified at the time, The Sun reported.

In April 2005, responding to questions from Maryland elections chief Linda H. Lamone, Diebold President Tom Swidarski wrote that any unit that had passed the test had been deemed safe. Morrill told The Sun the company eventually found that the test was inadequate.

Morrill told the Post the company didn't finish researching the screen freezes until early 2005, when it agreed to replace all the motherboards to guarantee that the problem wouldn't recur.

Burger told The Sun that he and fellow members initially were told that Diebold was performing a "technical refresher" of the voting machines.

However, Morrill told the Post the company had "publicly disclosed" information about the problem and its solution in communications with the State Board of Elections staff, including a six-page letter to Lamone.

Burger told the Post that if Lamone had withheld information about the motherboards, "I think she is not carrying out her duties as a public official." Burger and other appointees of Gov. Robert Ehrlich sought in 2004 to oust Lamone, a move that was blocked in court.

Ross Goldstein, deputy state elections administrator, also said board members could have learned details of the technology refresh if they had asked, and he defended Diebold's handling of the problem. "They have updated all the units, and the problem has been resolved," he said.

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