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State Rebuffs Raw Vote Demand
Published on Tuesday, January 24, 2006 by the Anchorage Daily News / Alaska
State Rebuffs Raw Vote Demand
Standoff: Democrats want 2004 base election data; machine firm is playing coy.
by Lisa Demer
 
The state Division of Elections has refused to turn over its electronic voting files to the Democrats, arguing that the data format belongs to a private company and can't be made public.

The Alaska Democratic Party says the information is a public record essential for verifying the accuracy of the 2004 general election and must be provided.

The official vote results from the last general election are riddled with discrepancies and impossible for the public to make sense of, the Democrats said Monday. A detailed analysis of the underlying data could answer lingering questions about an election many thought was over more than a year ago, they say.

"Basically what they say is they want to give us a printout from the (electronic) file. They don't want to give us the file itself. It doesn't enable us to get to the bottom of what we need to know," said Kay Brown, spokeswoman for the party.

At this point, it's impossible to say whether the correct candidates were declared the winner in all Alaska races from 2004, Brown said.

The private contractor hired to provide Alaska's electronic voting machines is Diebold Election Systems. It has told Alaska officials it owns the "structure of the database" though the data itself is public.

State officials say the Democrats have it wrong.

"The issue is not about whether public information can be released, because the Division of Elections has already offered to provide the information requested by the (Alaska Democratic Party)," elections director Whitney Brewster said in a written statement. "The issue is that the (Democratic Party) is asking for a file format the state of Alaska uses but does not own."

Diebold told the state it owns the format, which can't be released because it's a company secret.

Diebold maintains its voting systems produce accurate results, as proven through recounts in numerous close races, said Mark Radke, Diebold director of marketing.

Questions still hound the company. Some elections officials in other states are questioning whether its electronic machines are secure. Investors have sued the Ohio-based parent company, Diebold Inc., over whether it concealed problems with its voting machines, among other issues. Its chief executive, who once vowed to deliver Ohio electoral votes to President Bush, recently stepped down.

The latest controversy concerns the database holding the results of Alaska's 2004 general election. Democrats say it's important for them to see the database in its original structure ---- the format in which the data was created and now is stored and reported. That's how they hope to figure out if the votes were registered and reported accurately.

But under the state's contract with Diebold, that cannot be released, Brewster said.

Documents provided by the Democrats show that Brewster contacted Diebold and was told the public data can be released only after being transferred to a common format such as Microsoft Excel.

In a Jan. 6 e-mail, Diebold's lawyer, Charles R. Owen, told Brewster that "the structure of the database file ... is proprietary information."

Perhaps, but it's not secret. Anyone can examine Diebold's format on a Web site set up by activists who have been raising questions about the company, the Alaska Democrats said.

"Copies of these kinds of files have been sitting on the Internet for over two years, with Diebold's knowledge," said Jim March, an investigator with Black Box Voting, a private organization that calls itself a national consumer protection group for voters.

Diebold has blocked the group's efforts to get election files in California, Colorado and Washington state, March said. But the data format has been released in a Florida county and in Memphis, Tenn., during a challenge of a mayoral election, he said.

What the state has offered leaves out "the forensic traces we need to figure out what really happened," March said. The Black Box group is helping the Alaska Democratic Party.

"The results from the 2004 election in Alaska just plain look squirrelly," March said.

For instance, district-by-district vote totals add up to 292,267 votes for President Bush, but his official total was only 190,889.

Election officials have an explanation. Early votes for statewide candidates were not recorded by House district but rather were tallied for each of the state's four election regions. Those regional totals then were reported for every House district, essentially inflating the vote total many times over.

The results should be reported differently next time, officials have said.

Democrats also contend more than 2,000 Alaskans cast valid absentee ballots that weren't counted in official totals.

Unless they get the entire file, they won't be able to understand what caused the "bizarre and inaccurate reports" from Alaska's 2004 election, they say.

"These votes belong to us," Brown said. "These are all public record. It's wrong that a contractor like Diebold can keep us from seeing the record."

Copyright © 2006 The Anchorage Daily News

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