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Ion Icon: The Risks of Integrity PDF  | Print |  Email
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
March 26, 2006

A widely published Associated Press article quotes Leon County Supervisors of Elections Ion Sancho (pictured at right) musing, "an honest man with integrity is probably not the person you want to bet on in the American political system." As a result of insisting on voting equipment that allows for independent verification, Sancho has been predictably punished by Florida's State election officials, who seem determined to eliminate any possibility of verifying the state's election results. As noted by the Miami Herald “in Florida, real heroes just catch hell.”


It's not just the election officials who are unhappy with Sancho. The Washington Post described the situation:

The maverick elections supervisor in Leon County, Fla., last year helped show that electronic voting machines from one of the major manufacturers are vulnerable, according to experts, and would allow election workers to alter vote counts without detection.

Now, however, Sancho may be paying an unexpected price for his whistle-blowing: None of the state-approved companies here will sell him the voting machines the county needs.

"I've essentially embarrassed the current companies for the way they do business, and now I believe I'm being singled out for punishment by the vendors," he said.

While concern about the influence of partisan politics on the vote counting process is well founded, with a rich and thoroughly bi-partisan history, the heroic position that Sancho has claimed has highlighted another troubling ramification of America’s privatized election process. If an elected official or a candidate takes a principled stand and demands that elections should be transparent and that the voting machine vendors should be held accountable for the quality and reliability of their equipment, they are a threat to the voting industry.

But the voting industry, through their refusal to disclose the software that counts the vote, controls the vote-counting process. How can anyone trust the results when the counting of the votes is done by private corporations with a vested interest in the outcome?


In California, appointed Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, intentionally or not, has established himself as the voting industry’s ally. In spite of overwhelming evidence of the insecurity and unreliability of Diebold’s equipment, McPherson gave in to pressure from some county clerks and “conditionally” certified Diebold’s equipment for use in this year’s elections. The contests in those elections will include McPherson's race for Secretary of State.

One of his challengers is State Senator Debra Bowen, who has made no secret of her concern about the inappropriate influence of the voting industry on the election process. She has held hearings on open source software and questioned the current testing and certification process: topics that are anathema to Diebold, Sequoia, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), and Hart Intercivic.

And these are precisely the folks that will be counting the votes in the election to decide who is in charge of election administration in California.

 

In Nebraska, state law prohibits manual recounts to verify the accuracy of electronic tallies. In a Journal Star article, incumbent Secretary of State John Gale said that the equipment provided by Omaha-based ES&S is "fundamentally sound" and a hand recount would serve no useful purpose because the existing system is much more reliable. Both of Gale's challengers have argued in favor of a hand count. In the same article, former State Senator Don Eret noted that “I don’t think it is proper that people should remain suspicious or in the dark, when we have the paper ballots. Another challenger, Jay Stoddard, said "there is plenty of information indicating potential security problems with modern voting equipment. Every voting system should allow for a hand count audit and give candidates the option to seek a hand recount."

 

A hand count could potentially reveal that the electronic results from ES&S equipment were inaccurate. ES&S will be counting the all the votes in Nebraska. There will be no way to verify the accuracy of the results.

 

An equally troubling scenario is developing in Maryland. State election director Linda Lamone has doggedly defended her flawed and expensive decision to make the state a Diebold flagship, with paperless touchscreens statewide. Three years and $90 million later, voters, legislators and the Governor have recognized the mistake and there is considerable momentum behind a proposal to switch to a paper ballot optical scan voting system for this year’s elections.

 

Lamone will no doubt fight to the bitter end for her friends at Diebold but if she loses the battle she will be forced to administer an election using optical scan equipment. How well can we expect that election to go? Especially if the state makes yet another mindlessly expensive mistake and leases equipment for the same price that they could buy it in order to leave open the option of returning to Lamone’s beloved touchscreens in 2008? You can be sure if the fate of Maryland’s future voting system hangs on how well the optical scanners perform in 2006 there will be plenty of "glitches".

New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, in reference to the voting machine manufacturers, once commented “personally, I've known a lot of these people for a long time, and we've become a family." Presumably, Ion Sancho is not a member of that particular family. To many concerned citizens it does indeed seemthat an insular, self-serving family of election officials and vendors make decisions about voting technology with only grudgingly accepted input from voters. The voting industry sponsorship of the Election Center, the National Association of Secretaries of State, and the National Association of State Election Directors, their funding of cruises and receptions and dinners at conferences, and the appearance of state and local election officials on the marketing materials for voting machine manufacturers further reinforces this perception.

Appropriate outrage has been expressed about the partisan activities of state election officials. Is it any different when an election official like Lamone, or Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Conny McCormack, whose photos and glowing testimonials appear on voting machine manufacturers' glossy brochures?

As Josef Stalin is often quoted, "It's not the people who vote that count. It's the people who count the votes."

The voting industry counts the votes in America.

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