Voting machine glitches tally up

From: Arthur Keller <voting_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Tue May 09 2006 - 23:36:49 CDT


Voting machine glitches tally up
Denver City Council to discuss purchase for next election

By Lou Kilzer And Alan Gathright
Rocky Mountain News

The company Denver is relying on for voting
machines for this year's elections has a history
of computer glitches, delayed counting, supply
problems and a brush with a bribery
scandal.Malfunctions in Sequoia Voting Systems'
machines contributed to a four-week delay in
getting full results in Chicago's March primary
election - prompting a Cook County official to
threaten to withhold payment of some of the $50
million the county owes Sequoia.

Although Denver will be using some of the same
machines implicated in Chicago, city election
officials say they have worked with Sequoia for
decades and they will be ready for the Aug. 8

Essex County, N.J., election officials, however,
are waiting for Sequoia to deliver 616 machines
for its June primary. If they don't arrive in
time, the county could lose $5 million in federal

Meanwhile, officials in Pennsylvania are
sketching out contingency plans for a May 16 vote
in the event Sequoia software problems cannot be
fixed in time. A test showed that part of the
system being used there is vulnerable to hackers.

These problems follow a series of Sequoia snafus
in California, Washington, Florida and New
Mexico, according to summaries of news reports
given to members of the Denver City Council by a
voters' rights organization.

Also on the list is a bribery scandal in
Louisiana where that state's election chief,
Jerry Fowler, pleaded guilty in 2001 to taking
bribes for the purchase of outdated voting
equipment at inflated prices.

All of these issues are either minor glitches or
problems blown up by the media, said Sequoia
spokeswoman Michelle Shafer.

The Chicago problems were caused by the adoption
of separate high-technology systems at the same
time - something that shouldn't happen in Denver,
she said.

Denver plans to use only one of the two types of
voting machines that are at the center of the
Chicago problems, Shafer said.

And so far, she said, Cook County has taken no
formal action to withhold payments to Sequoia.

Sequoia is working closely with Cook County
officials to correct problems before the next
election, Shafer added.

And Essex County will soon get the machines it
ordered, Shafer said. Election official Carmine
Casciano agrees, saying he expects the machines
within a week. But, he noted, they were due Feb.

Shafer also said Sequoia is fixing the software
problem spotted by a Pennsylvania university
researcher, although not all of the fix will be
ready by Election Day.

Until then, older technology will be used, Shafer said.

In the Louisiana bribery case, New Jersey
businessman Pasquale Ricci and Alabama
businessman David Philpot, who was a Sequoia
equipment distributor but not an employee, both
pleaded guilty.

One Sequoia executive, Phil Foster, allegedly
delivered cash to Fowler, the Louisiana elections

Foster's attorney said Foster took envelopes
given to him by Philpot and deposited them in a
box in Louisiana where they were allegedly
retrieved by Fowler.

But Foster didn't know that the envelopes
contained large amounts of cash, said his
attorney, Karl Koch. As far as Foster knew, Koch
said, the envelopes might have contained "the
Hope Diamond."

The case against Foster was dropped after a court
ruled that an earlier grant of immunity made it
impossible to try him. He has maintained his
innocence throughout.

Foster has had "his record expunged" and is still
a Sequoia manager, Shafer said.

"At no time were any allegations made suggesting
that Sequoia Voting Systems was involved in any
type of unlawful activity in any way," she wrote
to the News.

Foster could not be reach for comment.

Chicago's problems

Shafer said the alleged problems in other states
are extremely minor if they exist at all, often
representing distortions disseminated by
anti-Sequoia and anti-electronic voting bloggers.

That's not true, say critics, including Bruce
Serell, who is on a technical panel in Palm Beach
County, Fla., trying to straighten out electronic
voting there.

Serell said there were thousands of problems
involving Sequoia machines during the 2002 and
2004 elections there. He said systems with a
paper audit trail - similar but not identical to
the ones proposed for Denver - were "difficult to
install, difficult to read and they jam."

Denver's voting machines are the same as one of
the models used in Chicago. With those, a voter
can check how the machine will register the vote
on a paper record.

Bev Davis, founder of Black Box Voting, a
frequent critic of electronic voting, agreed with
Shafer that many of the Chicago problems were
caused by poll workers, not the machines.

But the workers had problems because of the complexity of the system, she said.

Chicago Alderman Ed Burke says he doesn't buy blaming poll workers.

"It's easy to shift the responsibility to the
hard-working (election) judges that are underpaid
and overworked, but who had the responsibility
for training?" he asked. "Wasn't that part of
their contract?"

Time crunch

Denver City Council President Rosemary Rodriguez
says she was caught off-guard by Sequoia's
problems elsewhere.

"I didn't know any of this," said Rodriguez, who
is a former city clerk who oversaw elections.
"Based on my experience with Sequoia, I found
them to be very reliable."

Rodriguez wonders if the electronic voting
problems have been fueled by communities across
the country scrambling to meet state and federal
deadlines for getting newly certified voting
machines in time for this year's elections.

In February, she unsuccessfully sought to buy
Denver a temporary reprieve from the deadline by
calling for mail-in elections this year. But city
election officials were doubtful they could
obtain the required special state legislation.

Denver Election Commission officials say they
have a time-tested relationship with Sequoia and
its predecessor company dating back 50 years.

"We're very confident in Sequoia and have had no
problems with them," said Alton Dillard, the
commission's interim executive director. "We are
going with a vendor that is certified by the
federal government and the state of Colorado."

State and federal mandates

The proposed purchase of 240 Sequoia "Edge"
machines comes as Denver shifts from neighborhood
precinct polling places to 47 voting centers for
the primary.

The machines' new computerized technology allows
disabled citizens to vote without assistance, a
requirement of the federal Help America Vote Act
of 2002.

They also will help Denver meet a state mandate
that new electronic machines provide a paper
record, showing individuals how they voted and
allowing them to correct any mistakes.

Denver voters will use a combination of the new
Edge machines and 9-year-old Sequoia Advantage
machines on which voters press buttons to
electronically cast their vote. The 1,100 older
machines print an internal tally of total votes
cast to confirm the electronic count.

Dillard said the Denver voting system is safe
from manipulation because the machines are not
linked by a network that could be "hacked" into
by outsiders. Votes are recorded on electronic
ballot cartridges that are hand-carried to a
central tabulation machine by election officials.

But critics of electronic voting cite the myriad
vulnerabilities and failures that have plagued
equipment vendors across the country.

"At all levels of the process, the election
system is flawed," Denver software programmer
Jeff Cook warned a City Council hearing in late
April. He was among eight citizens who urged the
council to move cautiously in spending $1.4
million in federal funds for new machines.

"Why is it that computer professionals are the
ones leading the charge against electronic voting
machines?" Cook said. "We work with computers day
in and day out . . . I would not trust them for a
minute with my vote."

He advocates a low-tech solution: hand-counting
of paper ballots, a practice he says works well
in Canada and Germany.

"This isn't just about Sequoia. Every vendor has
got problems," said Sarah McCarthy, vice
president for communication for the Denver League
of Women Voters.

"The league's intent is that the public has
confidence in the outcome of an election. And we
are not convinced at this time that electronic
voting can achieve that," added McCarthy.
"Personally, I'm telling my friends: 'Vote
absentee.' "

Denver City Council will discuss its purchase from Sequoia tonight.

Satisfied customers

Sequoia answers its detractors with letters of
recommendation from happy clients.

Sequoia sent the News a letter the company
received on April 20 from Wayne E. Vaden,
Denver's clerk and recorder.

Vaden wrote: "Sequoia has been a longstanding
vendor to our jurisdiction, and we find their
customer support and service to be superior. The
company is reliable and dependable."

Cook County, Ill., officials also sprang to the
company's defense after the March election.

The county Board of Elections wrote this to a local newspaper:

"Without argument, voters in Chicago and suburban
Cook County encountered some problems in the
March 21 primary - from malfunctioning equipment
to delays in the reporting of vote totals. But,
it certainly was not the disaster portrayed by
the Chicago Tribune editorial of March 23."

Updating systems

Counties with older Sequoia equipment


Clear Creek





Counties that are negotiating for new equipment




ElbertSources: Colorado Secretary Of State, Sequoia Voting Systems

Reasons for 2002 Help America Vote Act

"To establish a program to provide funds to
states to replace punch card voting systems, to
establish the Election Assistance Commission to
assist in the administration of federal elections
and to otherwise provide assistance with the
administration of certain federal election laws
and programs, to establish minimum election
administration standards for states and units of
local government with responsibility for the
administration of federal elections."

"(The act) requires that each voting system
used in federal elections be accessible for
persons with disabilities, including persons who
are blind or have low vision. Specifically, each
polling place can satisfy this requirement
through the use of at least one direct recording
electronic voting system or other voting system
equipped to allow disabled voters the same
opportunity for access and participation as other
voters, including the ability to vote
independently and privately."Source: U.S.
Department Of Justice, Public Law 107-252, 107th

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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