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Published: Thursday, 8/21/2003

Author of voting study admits conflict of interest


Avi Rubin, a nationally recognized computer-security expert and co-author of a study that criticized Diebold Elections System's electronic touch-screen voting system under consideration for Lucas County, has acknowledged that, at the time of the study, he was working for another company in the same industry.

Mr. Rubin disclosed his position as the member of a technical advisory board for VoteHere, Inc., in a statement earlier this week. He said he had resigned and forfeited stock options paid to him as compensation by VoteHere, a Bellevue, Wash., firm that specializes in security software for voting machines.

Stacey Fields, a spokesman for VoteHere, yesterday confirmed his resignation and said he had never been paid anything beyond the stock options, which were never exercised.

“Had I considered my relationship with VoteHere, I would have disclosed it at the time that the report on the Diebold software was released. However, I had not had any contact with VoteHere since I signed on to their board over two years ago, and I simply did not remember nor think about it. In hindsight, that is very unfortunate,” Mr. Rubin said in his statement.

Mr. Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, reported last month that the computer code once used by Diebold was faulty.

He and two co-authors wrote that the firm's voting-machine software was susceptible to tampering and that elections using the program could be affected.

Diebold discounted the Rubin study, saying his work was flawed because it used an outdated code that had since been improved, did not take into account security processes embedded in its voting machine hardware, and ignored many practical security procedures local elections administrators employ to guarantee fair elections.

Lucas County has agreed to use Diebold equipment, starting with the Sept. 9 Toledo primary.

A Diebold statement said company officials were “shocked and disappointed by [the] recent admissions” of Mr. Rubin.

Ms. Fields said VoteHere executives were not aware that Mr. Rubin was working on the study.

“We read about it in the New York Times,” she said.

While Diebold said in its statement that it considers VoteHere a competitor, Ms. Fields said the feeling is not mutual. She said her firm focuses primarily on voting security software and Internet voting technology, not on electronic voting machines.

However, she acknowledged that VoteHere has entered into a contract to supply its security software to Sequoia Voting Systems, an Oakland, Calif., voting-machine company that competes with Diebold to sell election equipment nationwide.

Ms. Fields said the agreement with Sequoia was consummated after Mr. Rubin's report was made public, and that he was not informed ahead of time of the deal.

She said VoteHere also has been trying to sell its security software to Diebold.

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