From Diebold to Zero in 90 Days
And there's nothing Humboldt can do about it...
By Parke Bostrom on 4/30/2009, 4:32pm PT  

By Parke Bostrom and Brad Friedman

On Tuesday, April 21, we gave Humboldt County, CA Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich a public records request for the two letters she read aloud (but declined to otherwise disclose) at a March 24 public meeting of the ad-hoc Humboldt Election Advisory Committee.

As The BRAD BLOG previously reported the two letters were from Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems). The primary purpose of both letters was to terminate all contracts between Premier and the county. The letters were dated March 17 and 18, the day of, and the day after, the CA Secretary of State's hearing regarding serious flaws found in Diebold/Premier's GEMS vote-tabulation system.

At that hearing, a Diebold/Premier spokesperson admitted that all versions of their GEMS systems --- as used in 20 counties in CA, and 34 states across the nation --- feature such flaws. Some of those flaws, including the wholesale deletion of ballots without notice to the system operator, were discovered to the surprise and dismay of Crnich and volunteers working on the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project following the certification of the November 2008 election. Crnich was subsequently forced to re-certify the election with new results. [Disclosure: Parke Bostrom is one of the volunteers on the Humboldt ETP.]

Last Tuesday, at the next monthly meeting of the ad-hoc committee, Crnich presented copies of the two one-page letters and allowed examination of the originals (copies of which are posted at the end of this article.) The letters' legal language is very plain, straightforward and troubling. The contracts' termination clauses are being executed, and those clauses specify the necessary steps and required time frames...no matter how it may adversely affect upcoming elections in Humboldt County...

It is interesting that the letter concerning the voter registration system, known as DIMS --- in which no problems were either discovered or reported --- is dated March 17, the day before the GEMS letter. The county's DIMS voter registration database system is entirely separate from the GEMS vote counting system, and the county had hoped to continue using it. In fact, the county IT department was in the middle of performing a software upgrade to the DIMS system when the letters were received.

The upgrade was summarily aborted upon notice from Premier of their unilateral decision, "As per Section 25 of the DIMS License Agreement executed by Humboldt County...on April 27, 1999...to terminate the above-referenced Agreement ninety (90) days from the date of this letter."

Those who have ever had questions about the perils to U.S. democracy vis-a-vis the dangerous over-reliance on private corporate vendors for the execution of our public elections, should take note of the troubling truths spelled out in the paragraph above.

The March 18 GEMS letter points out that "Premier has also chosen to terminate the County's right to use Premier's OS and TSX firmware, and all other Premier licensed products". Also terminated is the county's right to use the central count GEMS software. This leaves the county with 80 AccuVote scanners that cannot be used on their own. While the county could try to sell the scanners in hopes of recouping some of their terminated investment, any buyer would need to purchase new licenses from Premier. Given their proven proclivity for petulance, should Premier wish to punish the county further, they could simply refuse to sell the necessary licenses to any potential buyer.

Back on April 6, Premier's unfortunately-named spokesman Chris Riggall commented on the contract terminations to the Times-Standard: "We just believed it prudent to kind of make a, well, to essentially provide a clean break, or a fresh start, for however the county would like to proceed going forward. We thought it would provide the county an opportunity to make a fresh start."

"Prudent"? As in, Premier does not trust even their own voter registration database product to work correctly in an environment in which it might be thoroughly audited? That kind of "prudent"?

Actually, if the county gets to choose between the "clean break" and the "fresh start" of which Riggall speaks, we'll put our vote in right now for the "fresh start". A good first step towards any "fresh start" would be for Diebold/Premier to refund all the taxpayer money it took, in exchange for the soon-to-be-useless, ballot-and-audit-log-deleting, federal-standard-violating election equipment that Diebold sold to the county over a decade ago.

While Premier will likely decline to offer any refund, the company's letters remain as a cautionary tale to election officials everywhere, should they chance to stumble across additional flaws in any product bearing the forever-sullied Diebold/Premier name.

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Diebold/Premiere's March 17 and 18, 2009 termination letters to Humboldt County follow below (click each for larger versions)...

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Parke Bostrom became a poll worker in 2004 due to concerns with paperless voting machines (which are not used in Humboldt County). He became involved as a volunteer with the local Voter Confidence Committee, the Humboldt Election Advisory Committee, and Humboldt County Election Transparency Project over the course of 2008. Parke has also served as an election night election observer, most recently on behalf of the Humboldt County Republican Party. His professional background is in software and programming.