New York Times
December 18, 2005
Diebold, the controversial electronic voting machine manufacturer, is coming off a tumultuous week. Its chief executive, Walden O'Dell, resigned. It was hit with a pair of class-action lawsuits charging insider trading and misrepresentation, and a county in Florida concluded that Diebold's voting machines could be hacked. The company should use Mr. O'Dell's departure to reassess its flawed approach to its business. The counting of votes is a public trust. Diebold, whose machines count many votes, has never acted as if it understood this.
Mr. O'Dell made national headlines when he wrote a fund-raising letter before the 2004 election expressing his commitment to help deliver the electoral votes of Ohio - where Diebold is based, and where its machines are used - to President Bush. Under pressure, Diebold barred its top officials from contributing to campaigns. But this month, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported that three executives not covered by the ban continued to make contributions to Republican candidates.
Diebold's voting machines have a troubled history. The company was accused of installing improperly certified software, which is illegal, in a 2002 governor's race in Georgia. Across the country, it reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the California attorney general last year of a lawsuit alleging that it made false claims about the security of its machines. Last week, the top elections officer in Leon County, Fla., which includes Tallahassee, concluded after a test that Diebold machines can be hacked to change vote totals.
Diebold has always insisted that its electronic voting machines are so reliable that there is no need for paper records of votes that can be independently verified. Fortunately, the American people feel otherwise. Nearly half the states - including large ones like California, New York, Illinois and Ohio - now require so-called paper trails.
Paper trails are important, but they are no substitute for voting machine manufacturers of unquestioned integrity. As Diebold enters the post-O'Dell era, it should work to make itself worthy of the important role it now plays in American democracy.
Copyright 2005The New York Times Company
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