Article published Mar 25, 2007


Firm sues Mass. over contract for voting machines for disabled



Associated Press Writer


BOSTON— One of the nation's top manufacturers of voting machines is taking the state to court Monday to try to block distribution of machines for the disabled in Massachusetts, saying it was unfairly denied the lucrative contract.


An attorney for Diebold Election Systems Inc. said the company should have been awarded the $9 million contract if Secretary of State William Galvin followed his own criteria when deciding which firm the state should contract with for the new machines.


"Diebold's proposal provided the best value to the commonwealth," said William Weisberg, an attorney for Diebold. "We believe that using those criteria correctly Diebold should have received the award."


Those criteria include cost, the ability of the company to meet the scope of the request, and the degree to which the machines met technical requirements.


Galvin called the lawsuit "frivolous" and "sour grapes on the part of Diebold."


"We've gone through an exhaustive process consulting with the disabled community to find out what's best for them," Galvin told The Associated Press. "We certainly don't feel like we have an obligation to help (Diebold) market their equipment."


Diebold's lawsuit, set to be heard in Suffolk Superior Court on Monday, seeks to block distribution until the court can rule on the merits of the company's case.


Under the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act, the state is required to have voting machines for the physically impaired. Galvin said the goal is to have a machine in each of the state's 1,700 polling locations.


Galvin said part of the problem was finding machines that could work for voters with a wide range of disabilities. The goal is to have a machine that disabled voters can use without the help of poll workers or others - in part to protect the secrecy of their ballots.


Galvin chose AutoMARK voting machines, in part because he said the machines produce the same kind of ballot card as other voting machines, so the ballots could be counted together. He said the Diebold machines produced a paper trail that could compromise the secrecy of ballots cast.


He also said that disabled voters who tested all the machines preferred the AutoMARK machines.


"The suit is a bit of a surprise," he said. "We consulted with the Diebold people. We felt that we treated everyone fairly."


Galvin said he planned to distribute the AutoMARK machines in time for upcoming municipal election to see how they work before a statewide election.


The lawsuit asks the court to find that Galvin "acted contrary to law and regulations or arbitrarily and capriciously" and to award Diebold the contract - or order the bids to be looked at a second time.


Massachusetts outlawed punchcard ballots three years before the contested 2000 presidential contest in Florida.


Galvin said he was using the spring municipal elections "as an opportunity to introduce the equipment statewide" to election officials and voters. Any delay in shipping out the new voting machines will make that introduction harder, he said.


Galvin said some of machines are already in place. He said Worcester used them for a special election last week for a state representative seat and Sudbury planned to use them Monday for a municipal election and Boston will use them in April for a special city council election.


He said he also hopes to use the machines in the fall for the special election to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan - and in the presidential primary next year.


Weisberg described the lawsuit as a standard procurement dispute and said the company wasn't making any allegations of bias or bad faith.


Weisberg said the injunction is needed to protect the company if the case is ultimately decided in its favor.


"What we don't want to have is the case decided in the future and have the state come back and say it's too late," he said.


© 2007  Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.