Fwd: Trusting Voting System Vendors

From: Arthur Keller <voting_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Mon Jun 05 2006 - 01:55:10 CDT

Letter to the Editor of BusinessWeek based on the article below.

>Date: Sun, 4 Jun 2006 23:40:36 -0700
>(Re: One Man, One Vote, One Conspiracy Theory, p. 34, June 5, 2006)
>We cannot ensure that employees and leaders of
>voting system vendors will not favor one
>candidate over another. Therefore we must
>ensure that the voting systems themselves are
>designed to be beyond reproach. HAVA spent
>billions of dollars on new voting systems, but
>the required new federal voting systems
>standards have still not been created.
>Unfortunately, the principle that votes are cast
>in secret and tallied in public is incompatible
>with voting systems being protected as trade
>secrets. Besides paper trails, or even better
>paper ballots, voting systems should be open to
>public inspection, including source codes and
>design specifications. Public scrutiny helps
>Linux be secure. It is secrecy that invites
>errors or fraud.
>Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D.
>Board Secretary and Founder, Open Voting Consortium
>Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303-4507
>tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424


JUNE 5, 2006


One Man, One Vote, One Conspiracy Theory
Critics of electronic balloting are raising
questions about a voting machine supplier

After the controversial 2000 Presidential
election, the U.S. embarked on a campaign to
replace paper ballots and their infamous hanging
chads with electronic voting. But the new
systems, many based on touch screens similar to
bank ATMs, have become the bane of computer
experts and some political activists on the Left.

Critics say the systems are riddled with security
leaks that could allow corrupt companies or
polling officials to steal elections. Now the
complicated ownership of one of the nation's top
three voting-equipment companies has attracted a
new cadre of doubters.

The company, Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., sells
machines in California, Illinois, and 18 other
states. It has come under fire because its
majority shareholders are Venezuelan. In the
colorful imaginations of some, the Sequoia story
is a tale that ends with Venezuela's leftist
President Hugo Chávez, a foe of the Bush
Administration, in a position to manipulate
American elections.

In Washington, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney
(D-N.Y.) has asked the Treasury Dept. to explain
Sequoia's sale to the Venezuelans last year. "It
doesn't seem like the deal...was vetted by our
government, and I want to know why," she said in
a May 5 letter.

Following a contentious Apr. 7 hearing on
Sequoia's role in a recent Chicago primary, city
Alderman Edward M. Burke, a relatively
conservative Democrat, said: "We've stumbled on
what we think could be an international
conspiracy to subvert the electoral process in
the United States." Burke offered no proof, and
despite similar concerns expressed by other
Chicago pols, the city and Cook County will
continue to use Sequoia equipment.

Sequoia officials insist that neither Chávez nor
the Venezuelan government has had any link to the
company. "There is absolutely, unequivocally no
connection," insists Sequoia Vice-President
Michelle M. Shafer. But Sequoia's ownership is
elaborate. The Oakland (Calif.) business was
acquired for $16 million in March, 2005, by Boca
Raton (Fla.)-based Smartmatic Corp. Smartmatic is
owned by a Netherlands holding company, which in
turn is owned by Smartmatic International Group,
based in Curaçao.

Sequoia says the Curaçao company's principal
shareholders are its Venezuelan chief executive,
Antonio Mugica, and his family. A large minority
stake is owned by other Venezuelans. "We were
trying to make a fluid company that could operate
internationally," says Shafer.

The Venezuelan connection has fueled speculation
among bloggers and others in the
anti-electronic-voting world about Smartmatic's
role in a controversial 2004 election to recall
Chávez. The company received a $91 million
contract from Venezuela's national electoral
council to conduct that vote, which Chávez
eventually won. While Chávez opponents claimed
fraud, no U.S. critics have linked Smartmatic to
corruption, and the company strongly denies it
engaged in any.

The U.S. criticism of Sequoia and its owners is
just the latest spat in a nasty battle over
electronic voting. Most of the conflict concerns
security problems. "These major security holes
have been there for a long time, and they are not
going away," says Holly Jacobson, co-director of
Voter Action. Her group has challenged electronic
voting around the country in races won by both
Republicans and Democrats.

Still, the new machines are catching on, thanks
in part to more than $2 billion in federal funds.
The number of counties using electronic systems
has more than tripled since 2000, to 1,050. And
public opinion surveys suggest that most voters
like them.

By Howard Gleckman
Copyright 2000- 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.
All rights reserved.

Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA  94303-4507
tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424

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