San Jose Mercury article about vendor revolving door

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 11:44:11 CDT

Laird just pointed this out to me....

It touches on several issues that Freddie Oakely wrote about some months

Elise Ackerman goes into more detail and came up with some specific figures
election people have been paid by vendors.

Posted on Tue, Jun. 15, 2004

E-voting regulators often join other side when leaving office

By Elise Ackerman

Mercury News

Shortly after leaving office, former California Secretary of State Bill
Jones sent letters to each member of the Santa Clara County Board of
Supervisors, reassuring them that the electronic voting machines they wanted
to buy were reliable.

``The touch-screen system Santa Clara is considering purchasing has been
been successfully used in Riverside County since 1999,'' Jones wrote in
January 2003.

One month after Jones sent the letters, the Republican became a paid
consultant for Sequoia Voting Systems, a touch-screen manufacturer that was
bidding for Santa Clara County's $19 million contract and ultimately won it.

Critics say Jones' move illustrates a troubling reality of elections in the
electronic age: close, often invisible, bonds link election officials to the
equipment companies they are supposed to regulate.

When voting machines were simple mechanical devices, no one much cared if
manufacturers helped local officials select and maintain their equipment.
But a switch to sophisticated computerized machines, and the sudden
availability of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies, has
raised questions about counties' dependence on private firms.

While a revolving door between government service and private-sector jobs is
common, some observers argue such cozy familiarity has led public officials
to overlook flaws in controversial electronic voting systems, putting
elections at risk.

Last month, Jones' successor, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, decertified
electronic voting machines across California.

Conditions attached

Warning that the machines could be ``subject to tampering or manipulation,''
Shelley, a Democrat, decreed they could be used in the November 2004
election only if counties take specific security precautions to ensure
digital ballots are recorded accurately. So far, only Santa Clara, Orange
and Merced counties have received permission to use the machines.

Jones, who is running for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Barbara Boxer in
the November election, explained in an interview that he wrote the letters
to Santa Clara County supervisors because he wanted to defend ``a technology
whose time had come.'' He stressed he had not talked with Sequoia about a
job at the time and was not writing on the company's behalf.

Jones said Sequoia paid him $10,000 a month from March to August 2003 in
exchange for talking to people who wanted to know about touch-screen
machines. He said he did not earn any bonuses for helping to secure

``I talked to people who called me,'' he said. ``I was not interested in

Santa Clara County registrar of voters Jesse Durazo said he didn't see
Jones' letters. But he noted the two months that Jones waited before
becoming a Sequoia consultant did not seem like a sufficient cooling-off
period. ``The public at large should feel that there is no undue
influence,'' Durazo said.

While Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage recalled that ``everybody and
their kid brother was lobbying'' for electronic voting machines, he's
satisfied with Sequoia. ``I thought we got a heck of a deal, we got a heck
of a machine and I'm happy with it.''

Andy Draheim, a spokesman for the political advocacy group California Common
Cause, said Jones did not appear to have committed any ethical violations.
But he said the revolving door is a perennial concern. It raises the
question whether decisions made in office ``were made with the best of
interest of the public in mind or with the best interest of the industry in
mind,'' Draheim said.

Former secretaries of state from Florida and Georgia also have lobbied on
behalf of voting-equipment manufacturers. Lower-ranking elections officials
have taken jobs with the companies as well. Three of Jones' former staffers
and two of his predecessor's staffers work for the three largest
voting-machine companies.

``Made sense''

``It made sense for me because my expertise has been in voting technology
and public education,'' said Alfie Charles, a former Jones' press aide who
is now a Sequoia spokesman.

For others, joining voting equipment companies has proven lucrative. Former
Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham scored a $172,000 bonus from
Election Systems & Software (ES&S) after helping the Nebraska-based company
win a $17 million contract from Broward County, Fla. She also earned
undisclosed amounts from sales of electronic voting systems to Miami-Dade
and 10 other counties.

Broward and Miami-Dade both experienced severe problems the first time they
used the new ES&S touch-screen machines. According to the American Civil
Liberties Union of Florida, as many as one out of 12 voters did not have
their votes counted in 31 precincts because poll workers were not able to
set up the voting machines or did not verify votes had been properly cast.

Paying for conferences

In addition to hiring former secretaries of state and their staffs, voting
equipment companies help pay for a multitude of industry conferences,
including those sponsored by organizations like the National Association of
Secretaries of State, or NASS.

At these events, companies routinely underwrite everything from trade
exhibits to dinner dances. Last year, Accenture invited election officials
to ``an authentic Island Lobster Bake'' at NASS' annual summer meeting in
Maine. A Bermuda-based consulting firm, Accenture was developing an
Internet-based voting system for the Pentagon and putting together voter
databases for individual states. Other companies sponsored an evening
dessert cruise and performance by the Maine State Theater.

``Personally, I've known a lot of these people for a long time, and we've
become a family,'' said Rebecca Vigil-Giron, New Mexico's secretary of state
and NASS' president-elect.

According to an NASS spokeswoman, the fees paid by corporate sponsors such
as Diebold, ES&S, IBM and Accenture account for more than half of the
association's $420,000 budget.

NASS does not regulate electronic voting. However, many of the association's
individual members are responsible for administering election laws in their
states, including rules governing the use of electronic voting systems.

Last summer, when independent computer scientists published an analysis
detailing serious security flaws in a Diebold touch-screen voting system,
the association asked Sequoia spokesman Charles for help in drafting a

Expressing support

The association's statement initially expressed unequivocal support for the
machines. But it was withdrawn after a handful of members protested that
ignoring the scientists was a mistake.

While equipment makers have routinely sought the support of state officials,
some of the closest relationships exist on the county level, where some
underfunded elections departments depend on voting equipment companies to
set up ballots and troubleshoot on election day.

``Years ago, when I worked in the secretary of state's office, I remember
looking at the small counties, and I thought, `Gee, if it wasn't for the
vendors, these elections would never get pulled off,' '' said Alameda County
registrar of voters Brad Clark.

Dependence breeds loyalty. One of electronic voting's strongest defenders is
Mischelle Townsend of Riverside County, the first California registrar to
introduce touch-screen machines. Last summer, Townsend flew to Florida to
appear in an infomercial sponsored by Sequoia, the manufacturer of
Riverside's voting machines.

Townsend disclosed the $1,080 trip as a gift but declined to discuss it with
the Mercury News. Other registrars said their voting equipment suppliers
have offered them tickets to football games and invited them to restaurants.

``Because the election officials have a close relationship with the voting
machine companies, they believe them and they trust them, instead of
performing their functions with due diligence,'' contends Will Doherty, an
executive director of the Verified Voting Foundation, an advocacy group that
has been critical of touch-screens.

Clark acknowledges that may be true. Last year, Diebold installed
uncertified software on voting equipment used in Alameda County, a move that
could have jeopardized the election.

``It made me be aware of the need to more carefully monitor what the vendor
was doing,'' Clark said. ``I should have checked more carefully.''

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Received on Wed Jun 30 23:17:15 2004

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