Citizen Activists, Increasing Concerns about Diebold Security, Company Integrity Said to Have Been Key to Decision!
ALSO: FOIA Requests Filed About Closed-Door Hearings, Concerns Emerge About ES&S, the Company Chosen Instead of Diebold, and a Diebold Lobbyist Reportedly Inquires About BRAD BLOG...And FAMILY!!!
By Brad Friedman on 12/22/2005, 3:23pm PT  

Add St. Louis County, Missouri to the growing list of Elections Boards around the country who have now rejected Diebold, Inc. voting machines in the last-minute scramble to select new election hardware, prior to the Jan. 1, 2006 Help America Vote Act deadline to have such "upgrades" paid for with Federal tax dollars.

The bad news for the once-great, now-disgraced Diebold, Inc. (stock symbol: DBD) of North Canton, Ohio, comes as the latest blow in a long string of disappointments for the company, which last week saw the resignation of its CEO, the filing of several Class Action Securities Fraud lawsuits, and the devasting revelation that their voting machines can be easily hacked, allowing the results of Diebold elections to be completely reversed.

The loss of the contract in St. Louis County, who chose to go instead with Election Systems and Software, Inc. (ES&S), is estimated by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to be at least $9.6 million.

The last minute decision came amid intense lobbying by both citizens' election integrity advocacy groups and paid Diebold lobbyists --- at least one of whom was reported to have inquired about both The BRAD BLOG itself and the financial background of the father of yours truly!

There are also growing concerns about the security of voting equipment sold by ES&S, as well, in light of various states and counties around the country selecting them, instead of Diebold, as the contractor to privatize their public elections.

The County's decision to go with ES&S, instead of Diebold, comes just days after the City of St. Louis (distinct from the county) decided unanimously to go with Diebold. The City's decision occurred even after Diebold's machines were exposed as completely insecure in a so-called "hack test" in Leon County, Florida that resulted in the tally of a test election being completely reversed. A few days later Volusia County, Florida decided against Diebold, and shortly thereafter the State of California "punted" the issue, for now, back to the Feds, stating there were "unresolved significant security concerns" with Diebold's voting machines. The California decision, though not yet definitive, is undoubtedly one of the biggest blows for Diebold, since it is regarded by the company as America's largest "voting market."

The City of St. Louis may come to regret their decision as much as they eventually came to regret allowing the County to split off from it, back in the days when the County was sparsely populated and seen as draining tax dollars from the City. Today, St. Louis County's population is over 1 million, while the City continues to stagnate at a population of just over 300 thousand.

According to reports from both grassroots organization Missourians for Honest Elections and Jo Mannies of The Post, information and concerns about about the latest failures of Diebold voting machines, brought to the County's Board of Election by citizens, was crucial to the BoE's decision. As reported by Mannies in a story on The Post website last night:

Board member Anita Yeckel acknowledged that the controversy surrounding one of the contenders, Diebold Election Systems, was a factor in her decision.

"There was a lot of publicity about Diebold that hadn't been resolved," she said.

In the version of the story which ran in today's paper, the following addition to the above was found:

She added that she personally thought Ohio-based Diebold was "a terrific company."

There was no explanation for that added quote and we have been unable to reach Mannies for comment today.

According to Virginia Harris, a volunteer with Missourians for Honest Elections, St. Louis county resident Harvey Friedman (father of this blogger) was instrumental, along with several others, in bringing the latest disturbing news about the Diebold company to the attention of the Board of Elections.

On a personal note; While my father has never shown a proclivity towards political activism in the past, to the knowledge of this exceedingly proud blogger, I couldn't be more impressed with his tenacious efforts to inform the St. Louis County BoE members of the many growing concerns about Diebold, and to hold their collective feet to the fire in the bargain. The tree, apparently, does not grow far from the fallen apple. Thank you, Dad. And congratulations for the positive effect of your good work in my old home town!

The activism of Friedman the Elder, and the reporting of The BRAD BLOG, apparently has not escaped the notice of at least one person, said to be a Diebold lobbyist present at the series of recent BoE hearings in St. Louis. After Mannies of The Post ran a short blog item highlighting both our hometown connection and our father --- whom she met and interviewed at the hearings --- Lou Hamilton, reportedly representing Diebold, was said to have "thanked" Mannies for "the outing of BRAD BLOG" (whatever that might mean) and to have asked her "Who is Brad's father? What does he do for a living?", according to a report of the incident.

Hamilton is apparently the CEO of "strategic communications consulting service" Hamilton & Company, and described in an article by Mannies as "a prominent Democratic consultant." More information on Hamilton and his company is available here. We have been unable to reach either Hamilton or Mannies for additional comment on the information reported above, which was emailed to us yesterday.

While attention to the many anti-democratic maneuvers of Diebold, whose former CEO Walden O'Dell infamously pledged his personal committment "to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes" to George W. Bush in a fundraising letter to Republicans prior to the 2004 election, has been increasingly well-publicized, ES&S has escaped the scrutiny of many Election Reform advocates.

The fact, however, is that ES&S' voting machines are not known to be any more secure than Diebold's, as reported in an eye-opening article yesterday by Wired News. In the report, adjunct computer science professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, Hugh Thompson, who also took part in the Leon County "hack test" last week, is concerned about the voting equipment being purchased from companies other than Diebold:

"Looking at these systems doesn't send off signals that ... if we just get rid of Diebold and go to another vendor we'll be safe," Thompson said. "We know the Diebold machines are vulnerable. As for ES&S, we don't know that they're bad but we don't know that they're (good) either."

Earlier this year, ES&S acquired distribution rights to the AutoMARK system, which has been described as far superior and far more secure than ES&S' own touch-screen and optical scan voting machines. As well, the AutoMARK system, which produces a paper ballot for every vote cast, is said to be accessible to disabled citizens in ways which ES&S and Diebold machines are not, according to a number of disabled citizen's advocacy groups. In Florida's Leon County, the Board of Elections has decided to contract with ES&S, with the intention of using the AutoMARK system once it becomes certified by the state.

St. Louis County's BoE has decided against the AutoMARK system, and instead will purchase 1,750 ES&S touch-screen machines for use in municipal races, along with 500 precinct-level optical-scan tabulators for use in Federal races, according to Harris, with whom we spoke by telephone earlier today. She suspects that ES&S is not dealing honestly with their newly acquired "partners" at AutoMARK, whom she contends ES&S is "defrauding" by over-pricing and under-representing their machines when dealing with potential clients on State and County elections boards.

"In my opinion, ES&S fraudulently priced the AutoMARK machines so high on their bid, that there was no way they could compete with ES&S's DRE [touch-screen] machines or anybody else's for that matter," she told us. Harris claims to have a copy of the bids submitted and hopes to share them with The BRAD BLOG soon.

The wrangling over which vendor to select in St. Louis County occurred shortly after several "closed door sessions" of the St. Louis County Board of Elections, who met privately with Voting Machine vendors and locked out the public and election integrity advocates. Those "closed door sessions" appear to be in violation of Missouri state law, and since then, The BRAD BLOG has learned, "Freedom of Information Act" (FOIA) requests have been filed with the County for the minutes of those closed door sessions. We will, as always, keep you up to date on details that may be revealed by those FOIA requests if and when the County complies with them.