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New vote machines ignite feud in Emery

Published March 28, 2006 12:09 am

Software flaw? County clerk threatens to resign over issue
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After 23 years as Emery County clerk, Bruce Funk will decide this morning whether he will resign because he cannot endorse an election on Utah's new voting machines.

"In no way could I feel comfortable with these machines," Funk said Monday. "I don't want to be part of something that put into question the results that come out of Emery County."

Earlier Monday, state Elections Director Michael Cragun and other state officials and engineers from Diebold Elections Systems met behind closed doors with the Emery County Commission. Their goal was to address Funk's concerns about some of the machines' computer memory that made him suspect they were not new or that something already had been loaded into their memories.

Funk invited in representatives of Black Box Voting, a Washington state-based nonprofit voter rights group, to inspect the machines earlier this month. Black Box has yet to issue a final report on the machines that are slated to replace Utah's punch card system of voting at a cost of $27 million.

By the end of the Monday meeting, Diebold engineers convinced the county commissioners the discrepancies in the machines' memory are the result of testing and of additional printing fonts.

But Diebold told the commissioners that allowing unauthorized people access to the machines had violated their integrity.

It could cost upwards of $40,000 to fly in technicians to retest them.

Joe Demma, chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, the state's chief elections officer, was plainly incensed with Funk for allowing Black Box to probe the machines.

"The problem is that instead of asking us or Diebold, Bruce Funk allowed a third party to put the warranty in jeopardy," Demma said in a telephone interview from Emery County. "If I sound frustrated, it's because I am frustrated. We don't know what they did to the machines. If Bruce would have just asked, we could have saved this forty grand."

Diebold's $40,000 estimate is exaggerated to frighten other clerks from questioning the machines' integrity, Funk said. "What they are really saying is, 'We don't want anyone else to think of doing this.' "

Commissioner Ira Hatch said Emery County will go forward with the Diebold machines.

"We've decided we are going have Diebold come and go through these machines and see if they are compromised," he said, adding the company may be able to work with them on reducing the cost.

As for Funk, Hatch said, "We are going to give him the option to get back on board and get on with the elections. He's not too prone to do that. He's talking about resigning."