Commentary: Diebold Delivers Untrustworthy Results By RICHARD STEINFELD

Tuesday September 06, 2005

I’m following up on Peter Teichner’s insightful Aug. 16 piece, “How Many Diebolds to Screw Up an Election.” 

Diebold’s receipt-printing behavior reminds me of Arafat’s shlemeil act: a strange seeming incompetence and shrugging, while election officials just stand around and watch helplessly. The shenanigans have been curious and telling. 

Some people in politics, when they get to a certain degree of power, enter a strange realm of arrogance or power-drunkenness within which it no longer seems to matter to them that their appearance of wrongdoing has become visible to the electorate. They don’t bother to cover their tracks any more. And here, we see Schwarzenegger’s shameless money steamroller, Cheney’s glaring Haliburton conflict and Scalia’s chumming with him right before an important court vote about him (electric with impropriety), and Bush’s appointed regulators standing around and watching while his buddy Ken Lay rapes California’s electricity consumers (Democrats have given goodies to their chums, too, but the GOP has taken the corruption to new, dizzying heights). And then there’s the rather transparent boast that Diebold would deliver Ohio to the neocons: our topic of the moment. How numb have we become in the face of so much corruption, conflict, and connivance, that this hasn’t been more of a hot-button? 

When it comes to Diebold and the receipts, you’re going to prove the lie to yourself! The next time you go to the ATM, take a good, hard look at the logo on that ATM machine. Spell it out. What does it say? (If it doesn’t say D-I-E-B-O-L-D, go look at a few more ATMs.) 

I submit that not only can Diebold print receipts, but that Diebold has refined receipt printing to flawless excellence. They are experts at reliable receipt printing. Diebold prints receipts day after day with complete accuracy. Have you ever checked your Diebold-printed ATM receipt and found that it disagreed with either your transaction or with your monthly bank statement? Has the Diebold ATM machine screwed up the transaction in those rare cases in which it didn’t print a receipt for you? And would their customer financial institutions put up with the same behavior that Diebold has exhibited when it comes to their voting machines? I smell a rat. And I think we’ve been fed some bad electoral pizza with rat topping. 

Alameda is one of a number of counties that have bought into electronic voting machines via the Trojan horse of access so that our handicapped citizens can participate fully in our democratic process. And, indeed, who can oppose this goal? But I think that our democracy is too important to allow the present gang of jokers to steal it from us. Diebold has proved to be untrustworthy. It’s time to kick the rascals out. And if Diebold’s competitors (remember them?) won’t give us the verifiable systems that we can trust, it’s time for a whole new approach. 

My thinking is that we should, indeed, have electronic voting machines. But our voting machines should be manufactured and programmed by a corporation made up of a consortium of governments. It would have snags, of course, and it’d be a rocky road. But it can be done. 

We have precedents. For example, San Francisco manufactures parts for its cable cars. Governments and corporations hire teams of consultants to come in and design entire vertical software systems—systems that sometimes aren’t perfect, but are good enough to get the job done. The U.S. Army has built some pretty secure dams for us. NASA blasts off into space pretty well, for the most part. Very often, Government can do things right. A lot of us are so busy grumping our government grump mantra that we fail to see how well, for example, the Post Office delivers our mail—the percentage that gets delivered accurately (pretty impressive, huh?). 

I also think that it’s time for tough questions to our election officials. In some cases, there are clear conflicts of interest, some pretty transparent partisan motivations. Why have some counties, including Alameda, adopted such buggy unverifiable technology, gone ahead with machinery that’s suspect to so many of their constituents, signed contracts despite the alarm bells rung by organizations of expert data professionals? Are these people to be trusted with our democracy? 

I’m thankful that my own county has not jumped on this bandwagon. But note that Diebold or similar systems actually tally the votes from our black-dot vote cards (should these be suspect, too?). 

I’m certain that we’ve got all the proof we need: our democracy is too important to be entrusted to the private sector. I’m glad that Teichner brought our attention round again, and this is a topic that should be kept alive until the problem is solved and our election process can be trusted by all. 


Richard Steinfeld lives in Contra Costa County.