The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C.
AP State News
By GARY D. ROBERTSON
Associated Press Writer
The effort to upgrade voting equipment in North Carolina by next spring took a hit when an approved vendor pulled out of the running, saying it couldn't follow a new law that required it to share its software coding with the state.
Diebold Election Systems told the State Board of Elections it would be impossible to meet a Thursday deadline to account for all software used by the company for machines certified to be sold in all 100 counties.
The decision means that only one vendor currently is cleared to sell equipment, raising more questions about whether counties will have enough time to buy machines that meet the state's technical and security standards.
"We've said that we can't comply with the black letter of the law," said Chuck Owen, a Diebold attorney in Texas who alerted the board of its decision late Wednesday. "And we don't believe any vendor can comply with the black letter of the law."
A spokeswoman for Election Systems & Software, the lone vendor remaining, said the company will comply with all voting system requirements. Another firm that was certified, Sequoia Voting Systems, withdraw earlier this month.
Sequoia and some smaller companies may try to seek approval in January, but they could be too late for counties that already are trying to decide which machines to buy. Roughly 90 counties need new or upgraded voting equipment. Without it, some may have to use paper ballots in the May primary election.
"We're just going to go forward," state elections director Gary Bartlett said.
Election Systems & Software said it could provide equipment to all counties if needed, Bartlett said. "We were trying to get as many (firms) to qualify as possible. ... For one reason or another that did not happen."
Diebold is worried it could be charged with a felony if officials determine the company failed to send a copy of all the software its machines use to a special holding company assigned by the state. They say they don't have permission to provide code that is owned by third parties such as Microsoft Corp.
Although a trial judge agreed Wednesday that the elections board had followed the law in choosing vendors, Owen said Diebold believed the law is too broad and the company can't provide regulators all the information it needs.
In a separate case last month, a Wake County judge declined to issue an injunction that would have protected Diebold from prosecution if someone accused it of failing to provide all of its software to the state.
Voting machine critics are skeptical of Diebold's electronic voting machines, saying they have caused election disruptions in California and can't meet North Carolina's high standards.
"They've got a bad track record here and elsewhere," said Joyce McCloy with the North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting, who prefers optical scan ballot recording machines.
The General Assembly approved the new machine and computer code requirements earlier this year after more than 4,400 electronic ballots were lost in Carteret County for the November 2004 election.
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