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mailed disks raise voting machine fears

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Oct. 21) - Election software disks that were delivered anonymously to a former Maryland legislator do not present any security risk for the Nov. 7 election, officials for the state and Diebold Inc. said Friday.

"None of the software on those diskettes will be used in the upcoming election in Maryland," Mark Radke, a Diebold spokesman, said. 

One of the disks contains an old version of computer code for Diebold touchscreen machines that are used statewide in Maryland and in other states across the country. 

The other two contain an old version of election management software that is no longer used in Maryland but is used "in a limited number of jurisdictions" in other states, Radke said. He could not provide a list of those jurisdictions, but said there is no risk of elections being compromised because of security measures, including encryption of the disks that contain the software. 

The FBI was asked to investigate how the disks wound up in the office of Cheryl Kagan, a former Democratic legislator who has been a vocal critic of the touchscreen machines. Kagan said the disks were in a brown envelope that contained an unsigned note saying they had been accidentally picked up at the state election board. 

Ross Goldstein, assistant elections administrator, said the state is not missing any disks and does not know where the ones that were delivered to Kagan were obtained. 

Disclosure of the possible theft of the disks came as a heated debate is under way in Maryland about the reliability of the Diebold machines, which were first used in four counties in the state four years ago and are now used statewide. 

Critics say the machines can't be trusted because there is no paper trail that can be used to verify that votes are counted accurately. 

Avi Ruben, a Johns Hopkins University computer scientist and a critic of the paperless Diebold system, said the fact that the disks were delivered to Kagan does not necessarily increase the risk that someone might be able to insert malicious code into the election system to change the results in the general election. 

"The code gives somebody the opportunity to define the weaknesses in the system," he said. "Maybe another copy went to somebody else." 

Linda Schade, spokeswoman for TrueVoteMD, an organization which has been critical of the state board and the Diebold machines, went further in assessing the impact. 

"This incidence of stolen software shows clearly that Maryland's voting system is not secure. There now may be numerous copies of the Diebold software floating around in unauthorized hands," she said. 

Goldstein discounted the importance of the disks for the general election. 

"I don't think it really has an impact for this election at all," he said. "We are still confident that the election is going to run very smoothly." 

Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich has questioned the reliability of the Diebold system, and has been suggesting that Marylanders use absentee ballots if they fear their votes will not be counted accurately. 

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor, said he does not know if Ehrlich will strengthen his advice about using absentee ballots because of the new development. 

"It raises yet another unanswered question about the security of the Diebold technology," Fawell said.             

Entry #734

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