State rejects Dems' demand for vote data

Officials say files of public information format now belong to private company

Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The state Division of Elections has rejected a request by the Alaska Democratic Party to turn over electronic voting files from the 2004 election.

State officials said the data format belongs to a private company and cannot be made public.

According to the Democrats, the information is a public record essential for verifying the accuracy of the 2004 general election.

Official results from the election are riddled with discrepancies and impossible for the public to understand, Democrats said Monday. A detailed analysis of the underlying data could answer lingering questions, they said.

"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.

It's impossible to say whether the correct candidates were declared winners in all Alaska races from 2004, Brown said.

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

"The issue is that the (Democratic Party) is asking for a file format the state of Alaska uses but does not own," said elections director Whitney Brown.

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

However, elections officials in other states question 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.

Democrats said it's important for them to see the database from the 2004 election in the format in which the data was created and now is stored and reported. They hope to figure out if the votes were registered and reported accurately.

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

Alaska Democrats said the structure of the database is not a secret. Anyone can examine Diebold's format on a Web site set up by activists who raised questions about the company, they 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. 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.

Democrats also contend more than 2,000 Alaskans cast valid absentee ballots that were not counted in official totals.

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