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Twists and Turns - Who Owns Sequoia? PDF  | Print |  Email
Sequoia Voting Systems
By Robert A. Wilson, Chairperson, Suburban Cook County Chapter, Illinois Ballot Integrity Project   
February 13, 2006

Chicago and Cook County recently signed a $50.2 Million contract with Sequoia Voting Systems. This sum is more than double the amount Venezuelan interests paid to acquire British-based De La Rue Cash Systems' 85% interest in Sequoia Voting Systems less than a year ago. Why buy the product when for less money you could buy the whole company?  


De La Rue, PLC, the world 's largest commercial security printer and papermaker, as well as a significant gambling enterprise, sold their interest in Sequoia at a loss, having acquired the company fom Ireland-based Jefferson Smurfit Group PLC, a paper and packaging company, for more than $23 million in 2002, in a deal that could have been worth as much as $35 million if Sequoia met certain sales and earnings targets.

Sequoia's purchaser was Smartmatic Corp, a Boca Raton, Florida company incorporated in 2000. It's president is Antonio Mugica Rivero, who allegedly was refused a tourist visa by the U.S. State Department when he attempted to visit his company's headquarters last October. The company's vice president is Alfredo Anzola. Mugica is also president (according to Florida records of its incorporation in 2001) of the software company, Bizta Corp, which provides voting software and is 28% owned by the Venezuelan government. Venezuelan records, however, indicate that Anzola, not Mugica is president. In Caracas, Bizta shares its office with Smartmatic.

Is Diebold Planning To Get Out of Elections? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Warren Stewart   
February 08, 2006

In an Associated Press interview Diebold Inc.'s new  CEO Thomas Swidarski (pictured at right) said he is reviewing whether the company should continue investing in its election division, Diebold Election Systems, Inc. Diebold only entered the election business in 2001 when they purchased Global Election Systems. The election division accounts for less that 3% of Diebold's gross revenue.


Could this explain reports from various states across the country, that Diebold equipment, in particular their touchscreen voting systems, are being offered to counties at fire sale prices?

Swidarski insisted that he feels good about the performance of the e-voting operations - this in spite of numerous shareholder lawsuits, scathing reports from computer scientists, and an ongoing controversy over the presence of interpreted code in their software architecture.

"There's pieces and aspects of each of our businesses that I'm going to be looking at with a very critical eye in terms of what the future holds for us,'' Swidarski said in his first media interview since taking over in December the company best known for its automatic teller machines and security systems.

Risk within any of Diebold's businesses will be weighed against profit potential, Swidarski said. "If any of the pieces don't fit or any of the pieces don't add the value we think is associated with that risk, then we'll make appropriate decisions at that point," he said.
He also pointed out that his biggest proponents were his long-standing clients, i.e. election officials who were responsible for the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars in equipment and are therefore relunctant to admit that there are any problems with that equipment. Many of these officials have linked their reputations to Diebold's, with their photographs and endorsements used in Deibold's marketing tools.

"I'm very confident that the states that have run this (electronic voting) the longest and have been involved with it the most are the most satisfied," he said. "Much like bank customers have to make decisions, elections officials make decisions. Those folks have a very difficult job, with big responsibilities."

It is undeniable that the responsibilities of elections officials are enormous and the important duites they perform are both crucial to democracy and woefully underappreciated. Nevertheless it is essential that they recognize the very real issues of security and vulnerability that have been raised concerning Diebold voting equipment.


Wisconsin Approves the Vote-PAD Assistive Device PDF  | Print |  Email
By Vote-PAD Press Release   
January 31, 2006

Port Ludlow, WA - Vote-PAD, Inc. is proud to announce that the Vote-PAD (Voting-on-Paper Assistive Device) has been approved by the Wisconsin State Elections Board for use in hand-counted paper ballot municipalities.

After meeting with U.S. Department of Justice attorneys, Kevin Kennedy, Executive Director of the Wisconsin State Elections Board, announced the state’s approval of the Vote-PAD. Mr. Kennedy said the attorneys spent considerable time looking at the device and asking questions about its use in the voting process. It was indicated, he said, “that they did not see anything that should stop Wisconsin from proceeding with approval.”


The Vote-PAD is an inexpensive, non-computerized, voter-assist device that helps people with visual or dexterity impairments to independently and privately mark the same paper ballot as other voters. The Vote-PAD was developed to help small towns and counties comply with the accessibility requirement of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. It allows them to continue administering elections the same way they have in the past.

Diebold Fate Hangs On Whether Its Voting Software Can Be Fixed PDF  | Print |  Email
By Ian Hoffman, Staff Writer, San Mateo County Times   
January 22, 2006
Software Files Have Company In A Double Bind With State, Feds

This article was published in The San Mateo County Times on January 22, 2006. It is reposted with permission of the author.

For more than two years, Diebold Election Systems Inc. has hit one political or technical snag after another trying to reap more than $40 million in voting-machine sales in California.

Now only a collection of tiny software files on Diebold's latest voting machines stand in the way of those revenues and more. Last summer, a Finnish computer expert using an agricultural device found he could rig the votes stored on Diebold's memory cards and rewrite one of those files to cover his tracks.

The revelation posed a double problem for Diebold: Not only could its optical-scanning voting machines be hacked, but state and federal rules for more than a year have forbidden those files in voting machines.

This week, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, UC-Davis and a private, testing lab in Huntsville, Ala., are studying those files under strict promises of confidentiality. What they find could bear directly on what kind of voting systems almost a third of California counties will use in the 2006 elections and indirectly on Diebold's viability as a voting company.

At issue is a kind of software called interpreted code — bits of programming akin to Java and HTML that are loaded and translated into computer instructions on, or immediately, before Election Day. Johns Hopkins University computer scientist Avi Rubi said interpreted code can alter a voting system on the fly from its original, tested and approved operation.

Florida: The Harri Hursti Hack and its Importance to our Nation PDF  | Print |  Email
By Susan Pynchon, Florida Fair Elections Coalition   
January 21, 2006
[updated January 21, 2006] I was one of ten people present at the "hack" of the Leon County, Florida voting system, which took place on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 around 4:30 in the afternoon at the county elections warehouse. Leon County's voting system is the Diebold Accu-Vote OS 1.94w (optical scan).

The Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Ion Sancho, authorized a "test" of his Diebold voting system to see if election results could be altered using only a memory card. Harri Hursti (photo at right), a computer programmer from Finland, who has been working with Black Box Voting, facilitated the test and it has come to be known as the "Harri Hursti Hack."

Following is a description of that hack and its significance for our nation, which I hope will correct much of the misinformation circulating regarding this event.
California: Yolo County, California Chooses the Vote-PAD PDF  | Print |  Email
By Vote-PAD Press Release   
January 19, 2006
[Link to Press Release] Vote-PAD, Inc. is proud to announce that it has reached an agreement to provide the Vote-PAD (Voting-on-Paper Assistive Device)  to Yolo County, California to assist persons with disabilities in marking a paper ballot.
Ms. Freddie Oakley, Clerk-Recorder of Yolo County, said, “After an enormous amount of research, we in Yolo County feel lucky to have found this assistive device. My skepticism about computer-controlled voting is well-known, and so is my concern for poll workers. The Vote-PAD is so well thought out, it keeps control of the elections with the people’s servants rather than surrendering it to big corporations. And at the same time it provides the most useful features for persons with a wide variety of disabilities of any assistive device we’ve seen.”
The Vote-PAD is an inexpensive, non-computerized, voter-assist device that helps people with visual or dexterity impairments to vote independently and privately. The Vote-PAD was developed to help small jurisdictions, especially those using hand-counted paper ballots, comply with the accessibility requirement of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. It allows them to comply without changing their entire election process to accommodate computerized voting. Since its release, it has also gained interest from larger jurisdictions that use optical scanners to count ballots.
Vote-PAD Rocks the Disabled Vote PDF  | Print |  Email
By Kim Zetter, Wired News   
January 19, 2006
This article was published at Wired News on January 19, 2006. It is reposted with permission of the author.

Touch-screen ballot machines billed as the ideal solution for disabled voters are facing unexpected competition from a newly designed system using inexpensive plastic sleeves and paper.

Called the Voting-on-Paper Assistive Device, or Vote-PAD, the device has won high marks from some advocates for the disabled, and has already been selected for use in California's Yolo County in order to meet federal voting-accessibility requirements.

With Vote-PAD, poll workers fit specially designed sleeves over paper ballots. Audio instructions guide visually impaired voters to bumps on the plastic next to each race. Holes in the sleeve corresponding to ovals on the ballot allow voters to mark the ballot with a pencil or pen without going outside the oval. Afterward, voters can run a specially designed LED wand over the ovals to verify their choices.

"This is a very generic, very simple solution," said Freddie Oakley, Yolo County's registrar of voters. "We don't have to train poll workers to do anything complicated."

Minnesota: Voting Devices Tested PDF  | Print |  Email
By Chuck Campbell, Access Press   
January 19, 2006

This article appeared in Access World on January 10, 2006. It is reposted here with permission of Access Press and the author.


A mock election testing the Vote-PAD Voting-on-Paper Assistive Device was held December 15, 2005 at the Minnesota State Office Building. Vote-PADs brochure touts its ability to facilitate “Independent Voting for People with Disabilities,” describing the system as: “(A)n inexpensive, non-electronic, voter assist alternative that helps most people with visual or dexterity impairments to vote independently.” The brochure’s background section states: “Some people with visual or dexterity impairments cannot mark a paper ballot without assistance. The Federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires that every polling place must offer a method by which people with disabilities can vote independently.” Vote-PAD’s owner, Ellen Theisen, said she “invented the system with input and cooperation from people with disabilities and people interested in transparent elections.”

Rick Cardenas, a person with quadriplegia who has limited use of his hands, was one of the first to try the Vote-PAD system. As co-director of Advocating Change Together (ACT), which facilitates self-advocacy with others who have disabilities, Cardenas has both a personal and professional interest in accessible voting systems.

“Make sure the holes are open —some of them weren’t open,” said Cardenas, referring to the Vote-PADs transparent ballot sleeve, which is designed to protect the ballot from stray marks and has holes where a voter can mark choices. Other than the closed holes, Cardenas said the system worked well. “The desk level is a good height; a lot of times election judges push you over to the accessible voting booth, which is too low. The guide makes it much easier than free handing.”

“It’s a really good idea to test run the Vote-PAD system,” Cardenas said. “I’ve been able to vote independently by marking the circles, but the Vote-PAD is quicker and easier. We’ll see if it works and elects the people I want to elect,” Cardenas added with a smile.

Florida: Voting Machine Firm Backs Out PDF  | Print |  Email
Election Systems and Software (ES&S)
By Bill Cotterell , Tallahassee Democrat Political Editor   
January 14, 2006
Suspicious, Sancho consults lawyers

This article was published in the Tallahassee Democrat on Janury 14, 2006. It is reposted with permission of the author.

 A reluctant turndown, recorded on Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho's cell phone, and a holiday greeting from a corporate giant that he'd chosen to provide Leon County's voting machinery are the latest twists in Florida's long-running struggle with election reform.

Faced with a deadline this month to comply with handicapped-access provisions of federal law in time for the September primaries, Sancho got the County Commission to dump the old ballot scanners late last year and let him bring in a new company to include a laser-printing system. But the new company, Election Systems & Software, has backed out of the plan - leaving Sancho suspicious of its motives and consulting lawyers.

Sancho said ES&S has been seeking Leon County's business since 2004. He said Diebold Election Systems, which provided the current system, had violated its agreement with the county by refusing to upgrade software unless he signed a new contract and agreed never to link Diebold equipment to any other machinery.

Sancho wanted to couple his 160 Diebold scanners with the "Automark" system that is marketed by ES&S.

Sancho said Friday he will negotiate with Diebold and ES&S first, but has consulted attorneys about taking legal action to make them come to terms.

"I'm going to acquire state-certified, HAVA-compliant equipment in time for this year's elections," Sancho said. "To me, that means getting the Automark."

But Ken Fields, a spokesman for ES&S in St. Louis, said the company isn't interested. He declined to give details but said "we just decided that we would not be able to have the most effective partnership with the county."

Accessibility For All Voters - Has It Arrived? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Pokey Anderson, for VoteTrustUSA   
January 11, 2006
An Interview with Dottie Neely, Advocate for the Blind

Dottie Neely has been visually impaired from birth. She can tell barely tell the difference between dark and light, but she can tell when her kids are smiling. "I would worry about how much less of my children's smile I would see from day to day," she says. "And then I learned that I could tell how much they smiled by listening, and by actually being closer to them."

Dottie has advocated for the blind for the past thirty years. Dottie's caseload consists of legally blind or potentially legal blind people. She works for the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, and the Guilford County Social Service Department. She has served her state's National Federation of the Blind (NFB) as president and board member, and has been active in a raft of other offices and groups.

She believes that "everyone ought to have the right to vote no matter what their disability," and has been eager to try out various kinds of voting equipment. She finds some systems fall short of providing the accessibility that Congress legislated in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The system in her county, the Votronic, currently lacks even a basic headphone with audio instructions for the blind.

Dottie adds, "Not only do we have a problem of getting a machine that's accessible, but with all of this, there ought to be strong voter registration drives, and strong educational campaigns to alert people to the fact that there are [accessible] machines, and they're not going to be treated like second-class citizens or like dummies when they go to the polls." In the past, typically, an election official would be assigned to assist a disabled person cast her vote. That doesn't always turn out to be nonpartisan. She says, "Oh, I've actually been to the poll, and voted, and had the person say, 'Why do you want to vote that way?!'"

We talked about her testing of Diebold and AutoMARK equipment, and how she rates them on accessibility. Later in the article, we'll look at additional equipment, as well as some of the undercurrents that can threaten fair appraisals of voting equipment.
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