Touch screen voting machines 'untrustworthy'?'


Dennis Wagner

The Arizona Republic

May. 10, 2006 05:50 PM


Four Arizona voters are suing the state in a bid to shut down touch-screen ballot machines during elections this fall, claiming the devices are vulnerable to errors or tampering and do not meet the needs of disabled voters.


The civil complaint, which was to be filed Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court, seeks an injunction against Secretary of State Jan Brewer and 13 county election officers who plan to use electronic voting devices manufactured by Diebold Election Systems Inc. and Sequoia Voting Systems Inc.


The controversy involves only 2,100 specialized voting machines enabling the disabled to vote privately and independently, so the lion's share of Arizona balloting equipment is unaffected. Under the Help America Vote Act, all polling sites must have at least one machine designed for use by disabled voters.


All but two of Arizona's counties plan to use Diebold or Sequoia equipment. Cochise and Graham counties are buying devices from another manufacturer, Automark, which has been deemed acceptable by those backing the lawsuit.


The lawsuit alleges that the Diebold Accuvote TSx and the Sequoia Edge II Plus "do not satisfy state requirements for accuracy and disability access, and . . . present unacceptable risk of inaccuracy, vote manipulation and malfunction.'' It also says Spanish-language ballots may be ignored.


"The machines are untrustworthy," Phoenix attorney Chuck Blanchard added in a telephone news conference. "They have a history of insecurity."


Brewer responded with a news release denying that the machines are flawed. "It's a shame that certain individuals are attempting to derail the rights of disabled citizens to vote privately and independently for the first time ever," she said. " . . . These machines have been fully tested and certified at the national and state levels.


"Similar unsubstantiated lawsuits like this one today have been filed in other states, and have been unsuccessful. I have referred this matter to the attorney general and have asked him to seek a dismissal as soon as possible."


Michelle Shafer, vice president of Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems, defended the 100-year record of her company and its products. "Our machines have never lost votes. They've never been hacked into," she said. "All of our equipment is certified . . . by independent testing authorities."


Diebold spokesman David Bear said the company's machines are certified in 38 states, with 100,000 of them expected to be used in the November elections.


He said they also have been reviewed by the American Association of People with Disabilities and the National Federation of the Blind


Plaintiffs in the case were identified as Alejandro Chavez, a naturalized citizen who primarily speaks Spanish; Judy Leiken, who has limited mobility because of multiple sclerosis; Thomas W. Ryan, a voter with a Ph.D in electrical engineering; and Sonja Elison, who suffers from low vision.


The plaintiffs are backed by Voter Action, a California nonprofit that provides nonpartisan legal assistance and research to ensure the integrity of U.S. election systems. The organization is leery that electronic balloting systems may be subject to manipulation without any audit trail. It advocates paper ballots that are scanned by machines, but can be manually checked during a recount or audit.


Last week, Pima County supervisors suspended a $2 million purchase of Diebold equipment for further evaluation. In 2005, after a Voter Action lawsuit, New Mexico switched to paper ballots. The organization also is backing current or planned litigation in Colorado, California and Pennsylvania.


The four Arizona plaintiffs are represented by a Phoenix law firm - Perkins, Coie, Brown & Bain - which filed the case pro bono, according to Blanchard and co-counsel Paul Eckstein.


"This lawsuit is trying to enforce the principle of having elections that are fair and accurate and verifiable," Eckstein said.


Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8874.