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Cashing In On Chaos? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Warren Stewart & Ellen Theisen, VoteTrustUSA   
August 07, 2005
At the end of July, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson announced his decision to require voting machine manufacturers to certify that their systems meet federal guidelines. He said he wanted to ensure that voters don't get "stuck with a lemon." In a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, Sequoia Voting Systems’ vice president Alfie Charles is quoted as responding "if there are interpretations of the accessibility requirements or different mandates from the federal government at a later date, it would be difficult for the state to require companies to bear that cost.” McPherson’s directive and Charles’ response give us a hint of the battle that lies ahead.

The implications of Charles’ response are chilling. Are voting machine manufacturers taking advantage of the confusion over voting system standards in order to reap yet another taxpayer-funded windfall? The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) has already channeled billions of dollars into the coffers of the vendors as states and counties scramble to upgrade voting systems before the Federal funding deadline of January 1, 2006. This money is being paid to the states and handed on to vendors even though the federal government has not get provided a definitive statement of what standards must be met in order for a voting system to qualify for HAVA funding.

To repeat: there are still no standards governing the disbursement of funds, but billions of dollars have already been disbursed anyway.
Many states are relying on the testing performed under the oversight of the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) to assure them that specific voting systems meet the HAVA requirements. But HAVA gave the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) — not NASED — the authority to determine HAVA compliance, and, to make matters worse, NASED is still approving equipment that does not even meet the standards specifically established by HAVA.

However, as the recent advisory published by the EAC makes abundantly clear, NASED approval in no way guarantees HAVA compliance. In fact, the advisory does not even mention NASED or acknowledge that organization as having any role at all in assessing HAVA compliance. The advisory points to the guidelines established by HAVA, and it adds more guidelines. Yet, it too, falls short of clearly defining what will and will not meet the HAVA requirements.

So who is accountable if equipment purchased in the absence of definitive guidance fails to be HAVA compliant? The states that failed to write guarantees of HAVA compliance into their contracts when they spent their taxpayers’ dollars and their HAVA Federal dollars on substandard equipment? The vendors who maintained that their equipment was HAVA compliant based on NASED qualification and/or their own interpretation of HAVA? NASED which has continued to this day to approve equipment that meets standards that HAVA made obsolete? The Federal government, which failed to establish the necessary guidelines in a timely manner?

In this chaotic climate, Charles’ statement is especially revealing. He suggests that the vendors are well aware of the potential for yet more profits. He notes that there are still no final standards to govern HAVA compliance, and he makes it very clear that any changes in the law — or any new interpretations of the law — should not result in Sequoia (or by extension any vendor) assuming any financial liability for the cost of upgrades necessary to meet the requirements of HAVA. The states, he intimates, will have to bear those costs.

It seems inevitable that as soon as the New Year’s Eve hangovers have subsided the vendors will be coming back to their customers ready to charge for whatever modifications or additional equipment may be required to make their voting systems legal for use in 2006 Federal elections.

Who will cash in on the chaos? Certainly, it won’t be the taxpaying voters.

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