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E-voting Dispute Hits North Carolina Courts

With midterm elections less than a year away, e-voting is again stirring controversy among voting rights advocates. North Carolina -- again -- finds itself in the crosshairs.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a complaint against the North Carolina Board of Elections, asking a state superior court to void what the EFF calls an illegal certification of three electronic voting systems.

"This is about the rule of law," EFF staff attorney Matt Zimmerman said in a statement. "The Board of Elections has simply ignored its mandatory obligations under North Carolina election law."

North Carolina law requires the Board of Elections to review all voting system code "prior to certification." Ignoring this requirement, the Board of Elections on Dec. 1 certified voting systems offered by Diebold Election Systems, Sequoia Voting Systems and Election Systems and Software (ESS) without having first obtained the system code.

"This statute was enacted to require election officials to investigate the quality and security of voting systems before approval, and only approve those that are safe and secure," Zimmerman said. "By certifying without a full review of all relevant code, the Board of Elections has now opened the door for North Carolina counties to purchase untested and potentially insecure voting equipment."

The EFF is seeking a temporary restraining order preventing North Carolina's 100 counties from purchasing any of the recently certified systems unless and until the Board of Elections reviews and certifies the code of each system.

"North Carolina voters deserve to have their election laws enforced," said co-counsel Don Beskind. "Election transparency is a requirement, not an option. The General Assembly passed this law unanimously, and it is now time for the Board of Elections to meet their obligations."

E-voting has sparked criticism and controversy since it was first rolled out in the 2002 elections. Most of it has come from the technology community, pitting security experts against e-voting machine vendors like Diebold and Sequoia Systems.

North Carolina experienced one of the most serious malfunctions of e-voting systems in the 2004 presidential election when over 4,500 ballots were lost in a voting system provided by e-voting vendor UniLect Corp.

Last month, the EFF convinced a North Carolina judge to dismiss a lawsuit by Diebold, which is seeking to an exemption from the state's transparency laws. Diebold represented to the court that it would be "unable" to comply with the code escrow requirement of the statute.

The Board of Elections certified Diebold despite its admitted inability to comply with the law.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday.