Friday, May 2, 2008

New York State & The Sequoia ImageCast

In fulfilling the HAVA requirement to provide a ballot marking device (BMD) to accomodate voting by the disabled, the vast majority of New York counties, including Dutchess, have chosen the Sequoia ImageCast which combines a BMD which creates a paper ballot with an Optical Scan (OpScan) tabulator. Currently only the BMD portion of the machine has been certified for use in New York State. The votes cast on paper ballots using the BMD in the November 2008 elections will be hand-counted, while non-disabled voters will be allowed to cast their votes on the familiar lever machines. One of the reasons for choosing the Sequoia ImageCast is the anticipation that its OpScan component will be certified for use by the 2009 elections when it will be used to count the paper ballots which will be used by all voters.

It seems useful at this point to examine the background of this company to which, if the OpScan is certified, we will essentially be handing the outcome of our elections. According to a Memorandum prepared by attorney Andi Novick entitled New York State Law Prohibits the State From Entering Into Contracts With Any of The Vendors Under Consideration, Sequoia has been repeatedly accused of lying and misrepresenting itself to the the various state officials with whom it has done business. The company's agents have been charged and convicted of bribery and money laundering in kickback schemes with an election official in Louisiana. Purchasing agents working for the states of California, Colorado and Nevada were hired by Sequoia as employees after awarding the company large state contracts. Voters Unite has compiled a 27 page list of Sequoia Voting Systems machines failures, but when confronted with problems Sequoia's usual response is to apply an adjustment which is nothing more than a placebo or to deny responsibility altogether as when the company blamed tabulation problems with software in Chicago on the local pollworkers. As Novick describes it, the exhaustive voting systems review conducted for the California Secretary of State in 2007 found that:

Not only did Sequoia'a voting systems lack the security necessary to provide accurate and reliable elections but Sequoia's ethics and integrity was again seriously impugned by the California Report which found that Sequoia's security system essentially consisted of a dishonest customer relations campaign. The California Report has now corroborated Sequoia's fraudulent and false representations exposing not only Sequoia's unethical conduct but its willingness to lie to conceal the fact that its voting system provides an open invitation for the manipulation of our elections.

In 2008 an executive with Sequoia Voting Systems, wrote a two-page letter threatening Union County , New Jersey with a lawsuit if the county clerk proceeded with plans for an independent study by a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University. That is to say that the county would be sued if it sought to understand and test the reliability of its own voting machines.

In conducting an investigative report on electronic voting, journalist Dan Rather recently uncovered a previously unreported connection between Sequoia and the contentious 2000 election. Rather interviewed 7 former employees of Sequoia who revealed that Sequoia switched to inferior and rejected paper which pre-election testing by Sequoia had showed would produce defective punching patterns and hanging chads on the card machines used in many states in the 2000 election. The paper, which had been refused and sent back by Sequoia employees, was brought back in and signed off for by plant managers. The paper was not only different from the paper used in other elections, but was known not to perform well in high humidity conditions, like Florida.

Rather revealed that more than 50,000 Sequoia punch cards were discarded as invalid because it appeared voters had over voted and on 17,000 of the Sequoia cards, voters seemed to have voted for three or more presidential candidates. In Palm beach County, 10,000 citizens apparently showed up to vote but decided not to vote for the presidential election. Not only were tens of thousands of citizens disenfranchised, but Sequoia has enjoyed huge sales increases as its punch cards were replaced by computerized voting machines after the 2002 HAVA response to the problems in Florida.

Sequoia, which is currently fending off a hostile takeover which would further consolidate the extremely small field of voting machine vendors, is owned by Smartmatic, a Venezualan company with ties to the Venezualan government. Recent investigation by Brad Friedman has revealed that despite assurances to The U.S. Treasury that the company has been sold to its U.S. management team, Smartmatic still holds direct and/or indirect control over several key aspects of Sequoia's operation, including ownership of the intellectual property (IP) rights for Sequoia's voting machines and tabulator software...

Since all electronic voting machines, both DREs and OpScans, operate on secret proprietary software owned by the corporate vendor not by the election commissions which own the machines, this essentially means that with Sequioa machines our votes will be counted not just by a corporation but by a foreign corporation with ties to a foreign government. With secret and easily manipulated corporate vote counting it is not difficult to imagine agendas other than the will of the voters being served. How comfortable would we feel if , for example, Halliburton or Blackwater became the major shareholder in the corporation counting our votes.

Sadly Sequoia's background does not distinguish it from the other major voting machine vendors seeking to do business with New York. Both Novick's Memorandum and a simultaneous report prepared by Voters Unite conclude that under the State Finance Laws and under the Vendex rules which are the State Comptroller's Procurement and Disbursement Guidelines all of the vendors under consideration fail to meet the requirements for "responsible" contractors and should be barred from doing business in the state. New York State is enjoined from doing business with contractors who lack integrity or whose past performance is wanting, therefore none of the voting machine vendors with whom New York is considering doing business are eligible for contracts under state law.

So how did we reach this point and why are we considering purchasing these machines?

Joanne Lukacher