Shawnee Dispatch

Officials are confident about voting machines

December 31, 2003

Kansas election officials say they are confident in the trustworthiness of touchscreen voting machines in Johnson County -- the state's most populous county -- which are the same kind of machines that have raised alarms in Ohio.

Earlier this month, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell delayed implementation of certain electronic voting machines after a review reported security flaws that could allow election fraud.

"I will not place these voting devices before Ohio's voters until identified risks are corrected and system security is bolstered," Blackwell said.

One of those cited by the review was a touchscreen machine made by Diebold Election Systems, which is the kind used both in Johnson County and for advance voting in Lyon County, the Kansas Secretary of State's office reported.

Despite the action in Ohio, Kansas and Johnson County officials said they were confident the systems would work.

Connie Schmidt, election commissioner of Johnson County, said she had been monitoring the debate about the Diebold machines, but so far hadn't learned of anything that would warrant reconsideration of their use in Johnson County.

"They're not of a concern to me because of the internal controls that we have in place," Schmidt said.

Some of the major concerns, she said, have been over voting machines hooked up to the Internet, or where results are transmitted over the telephone via computer modem. None of those conditions exist for the Johnson County machines, she said.

"We're satisfied with security computer controls," she said.

The touchscreen machines were used countywide in Johnson County for the first time during the August 2002 primaries. At the time, more than 10,000 Johnson County voters completed a comment card about the voting machines, and 99 percent gave them a favorable rating, Schmidt reported.

Jesse Borjon, a spokesman for the Kansas Secretary of State's office, agreed that the machines and procedures used in Johnson County and Lyon County were sound. The office has discussed whether to conduct an independent review of election machines and procedures, but hasn't made a decision yet, he said.

Nationally, concerns about new voting machines are increasing less than one year from the next presidential election. Following the voting problems that plagued the 2000 presidential election, especially in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which required states to replace punch-card and lever voting machines with electronic machines.

Most states are upgrading their equipment to either touchscreen voting machines or optical scanners for voters to mark paper ballots and feed them into a computer scanner that records the vote.

Diebold, which is based in Ohio, was at the center of controversy earlier this year when it was reported that the company's chief executive, Walden O'Dell, was an active fund-raiser in the re-election campaign of President Bush.

But Schmidt dismissed the notion that Diebold's product could be tainted because of the company chief's political ties. She said the machines were programmed at the local level.

"The vendor doesn't program our elections," she said.

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