Touch-Screen Voting Machine Researcher Cuts Ties to Rival Company

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A computer scientist who co-wrote an influential report alleging flaws in touch-screen voting software used by a leading manufacturer has returned stock options he held in a competing company.

Avi Rubin of  Johns Hopkins University also resigned this week from the technical advisory board of VoteHere Inc. (search) because "he didn't want any perception of conflict of interest," Chief Executive Jim Adler said Tuesday.

Rubin, technical director of Johns Hopkins' Information Security Institute (search), said he was returning the stock options, resigning from the VoteHere board of advisers and asking Hopkins to review his outside consulting work.

"I believe it was careless of me to engage in a study of a software system of a company in the same space as another company in which I had a financial interest," Rubin said in a statement. "Had it occurred to me at the time, I would have disassociated myself from them. I am now doing just that."

Rubin said he had never exercised the options and had not profited in any way from his affiliation with VoteHere. In fact, he said, he has had no contact with VoteHere since he signed on to its board two years ago. He said he didn't talk to VoteHere about the report or review its products or software.

In the report last month, Rubin and his Hopkins associates claimed the voting system made by Diebold Election Systems (search) could let outsiders or election officials manipulate election results. The study was billed as the first independent review of electronic voting.

Election officials in several states and some computer researchers said the study exaggerated the machines' vulnerability.

However, in Maryland, which recently reached an agreement with Diebold to provide up to $55.6 million worth of touch-screen voting terminals for 19 counties, Gov. Robert Ehrlich commissioned a private consultant to investigate possible security flaws in the system. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue also called for a probe into his state's $54 million system of computerized voting machines.

Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Ehrlich, said the news that Rubin had been a member of VoteHere's board would have no effect on the administration's investigation.

"It's best to err on the side of caution," she said. "Our study is about instilling voter confidence on Election Day."

Diebold officials said they were "shocked and disappointed" by Rubin's admissions.

"Diebold Election Systems has consistently questioned the conclusions drawn by the Johns Hopkins-issued report," the company said in a statement. "It is now clear, by Mr. Rubin's own admission, that questions of bias must be considered."