A lot of American Democracy Can Unravel in Just One Week's Time
As We Continue to Connect the Dots the Media is Failing To�
By John Gideon on 4/17/2006, 7:19am PT  

Blogged by John Gideon

In an article last week I pointed to the copious evidence that our elections are headed straight towards disaster; a "Train Wreck". That "Train Wreck," however, may still be avoided. The engineers of one of those trains, as it were, are the elections officials who are allowing themselves to be cowed by vendors like ES&S, Sequoia, and Diebold. The disaster can be avoided, but it will require the election officials to switch their train to a different track � by first acknowledging that there are problems.

In order to begin that process those officials must finally realize that they are not alone. Counties across the country are finding the exact same problems. The bad ES&S memory cards were not just found in Summit County, Ohio; they were also found in North Carolina and probably other counties in other states. ES&S will fail to deliver on contracts for voting machines in many counties all across the country. Does anyone really expect the engineer of the other train --- the voting machine vendors --- to switch tracks? They only see the money bags at the end of the track and not the other train barreling down on them.

The federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) --- created by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 --- has likewise not been doing their job. They seem to be content to just sit back and watch as voting systems across the country are in melt-down. Do they really serve any purpose other than to shovel out HAVA funding for these new systems to the states, who in turn pass them on to the vendors? It appears not. Take a look�

ALLEGHENY COUNTY PENNSYLVANIA LAWSUIT FILED

On Wednesday of this week a lawsuit was filed in Allegheny County, PA against the Secretary of State and other state elections officials, county elections officials, a US Attorney and the Attorney General of the United States. This lawsuit, brought by citizens of the county including two disabled individuals, seeks to stop the use of Elections Systems and Software (ES&S) iVotronic Direct Recording Electronic (DRE or touch-screen) voting machines.

In part, the complaint [WORD format] argues that the county decided to use their third-choice vendor, ES&S and their machines which are not accessible to people with disabilities as required by HAVA and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The complaint also claims there isn't enough time to train poll workers and voters properly on the use of the new machines. The complaint includes US Attorney Kim and Attorney General Gonzales for the pressure put on the county to make a decision at the last minute when both Kim and Gonzales could clearly see that any decision made just five weeks before the state primary elections would surely lead to chaos.

In order to assuage the concerns of the voters in Allegheny County and most certainly to respond to the lawsuit, ES&S and the county announced that for the May primary they will add one DRE voting machine, an iVotronic, at each polling place and install precinct-based optical-scan machines for the use of overflow voters. Previous plans were that just one iVotronic would be used. The county and ES&S also announced that one of the two machines would be equipped with "sip-puff" technology to accommodate voters with mobility impairments.

Neither the county or ES&S has explained how they have previously been able to claim that the iVotronics, prior to this last-minute addition of the "sip-puff" technology, were accessible under the requirements of HAVA � despite the fact that ES&S has been making those claims all across the country for months. They have also not bothered to explain how they can make the required modifications to the machines --- which will include changes to hardware, firmware, and software --- and have those modifications both federally and state certified in a timely way to be used in November�nevermind May.

In an apparent attempt at misinforming the media and the voters, according to The Daily News, a spokesman for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Kevin Evanto made one of the silliest statements to date:

"The ES&S iVotronic machines are fully HAVA compliant," spokesman Kevin Evanto said. "They have been certified by both the U.S. government and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The optical scan machine does not have a voter-verifiable paper trail."

Even if it did, Evanto said it may violate state voter privacy provisions.

Unfortunately the reporter did not ask Evanto any follow-up questions about how the machines could possibly be HAVA compliant if they were talking about adding technology to make them compliant or how a voting system that uses a paper ballot as an integral part of that system does not have a "voter-verifiable paper trail." In fact, the paper ballots used with the optical-scan systems are both verifiable and verified by their very nature! Also not explained is how optical-scan systems "violate state voter privacy provisions" and why, if that is true, the county would allow them to be used in the primary at all!

By the way, County Executive Onorato is one of the defendants in the lawsuit and is one of those "engineers" who just can't seem to see the rail switch that might help him avert the "Train Wreck".

INDIANA INVESTIGATIVE HEARINGS ANNOUNCED

The Secretary of State of Indiana, Todd Rokita, announced investigative hearings will be held to investigate possible illegal actions by ES&S and another vendor, MicroVote, in the state. The hearing on MicroVote is scheduled for today and the ES&S hearing is yet to be scheduled. There is a potential fine of $300,000 per incident against both companies.

Both companies have checkered pasts. MicroVote has a record of donations to candidates who have purchased voting machines from the company and then gone on to run in state-wide elections. One of their salesmen, in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, was investigated by the federal government, indicted and convicted of bribery and kickbacks over a seven-year period. According to the Los Angeles Times, in 1993, one ex-MicroVote national sales director and an ex-Federal Election Commission official told an audience that influence is more important than a quality product in his industry.

The Indianapolis Star reports that Indiana-based MicroVote General Corp., may have violated state law by selling, or attempting to sell, voting machines whose certifications had lapsed.

In a Wednesday press release Secretary Rokita's office said:

"As the state's Chief Election officer, Rokita will also conduct a separate enforcement hearing concerning the sales activities of another election systems vendor, MicroVote General, Corp., an Indiana company that, like ES&S, has contracted to supply voting machines to several Indiana counties. In monitoring various counties' purchase of MicroVote's equipment, the Secretary of State's office has learned that MicroVote may have sold, or attempted to sell, Indiana county voting machines whose Indiana certifications have lapsed.

"To protect the voices of Hoosier voters, I intend to hold hearings on these matters to determine whether Indiana law has been violated, and if so, to hold the appropriate parties accountable," Rokita said. "Hoosier taxpayers, voters and county officials deserve voting systems that comply with the high standards mandated by Indiana law."

Under Indiana law, every Indiana county contracts with a vendor of its choosing for voting system products and related services. However, before any voting system may be purchased by a county, the system must first be certified for use in the state by the Indiana Election Commission, a body independent of the Secretary of State's office. In cases where a voting system vendor's performance issues go beyond poor county service and begin to affect the ability of counties to accurately count ballots, the Secretary of State's office could issue civil penalties of up to $300,000 for each violation.

In characteristic fashion, defending his company, ES&S spokesman Ken Fields says the company is willing to answer the Secretary's questions, adding, "It's certainly a priority of ours to meet the needs of election officials and voters." Never taking their eyes off of that money bag at the end of the tracks, ES&S likes to comfort it's customers until they are not looking�and then they get run over by the locomotive.

WEST VIRGINIA COUNTIES HAVE NO BALLOT PROGRAMMING SOFTWARE FOR THEIR ES&S iVOTRONICS

The West Virginia primary is scheduled for May 9 with early "no excuse" voting scheduled to begin on April 19. Many counties, especially those in the Northern Panhandle, were scheduled to have already had their ES&S iVotronic DREs programmed and tested and ready for early voting. Unfortunately, as we are seeing far too often, ES&S has missed its deadline. No testing has been done and the voters will be using paper ballots (probably a good thing) in the early voting and possibly in the primary.

Unfortunately West Virginia's Secretary of State, Betty Ireland, seems to be mesmerized by the lights on the approaching locomotive. She is giving ES&S all of the excuses she can, as reported by the Gazette Mail:

The machines' vendor, Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., has been overwhelmed preparing computerized ballots for the 34 counties using the touch-screen technology, as well as for other states holding primary elections this spring.

"The vendor is obviously overwhelmed, and they're preparing ballots as we speak," said Ben Beakes, Ireland's chief of staff.

LOSING CANDIDATES AND GOP IN COOK COUNTY AND CHICAGO IL, CALL FOR AUDITS OF PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS

It is said that a successful election is one in which the losing candidate walks away with full knowledge and acceptance that they lost the race. That cannot be said about last month's primary election debacle in Illinois.

This week Democrat candidates who lost in elections and the GOP itself joined forces in a press conference. WBBM 780 reported that Cook County Republican leaders want 20 percent of the votes from the March primary recounted, because they fear problems with new voting equipment and charge that untrained election judges may have tainted the results. Attorney and Democratic candidate Frank Avila is threatening to file a federal lawsuit on behalf of both Democrats and Republicans.

Meanwhile the Chicago Tribune reported:

Fueled by concerns about "poor management and organizational incompetence," Maureen Murphy, vice chair of the county GOP and a member of the county Board of Review, said she has met with about 200 suburban election judges who detailed a litany of problems from the March 21 primary.

Among the issues, she said, were a touch-screen voting machine that "blew up like an M80" and had to be unplugged; machines showing votes that hadn't been cast; and machines not working at all. In one meeting she asked about 125 judges how many of them were confident that every vote at their polling place had been counted, and no hands went up, she said.

"We tell people every vote counts. But we do not believe every vote has been counted," she said. "This makes what happened in Florida, folks, look like a textbook election," she said, referring to the 2000 presidential election.

Election officials have agreed that faulty equipment led to Election Night mishaps, and they are pledging to withhold $15 million owed to the vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems, until two investigations are finished. One will be conducted by an outside computer analyst, Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said.

Some elections officials just don't seem to be aware that the "Train Wreck" of failed elections is bearing down on their constituents. They've either got their eyes closed or they are open and the officials are like a deer in the headlights. It's time they all realize that there is a way out of this mess. They need to take action and stop making excuses for the vendors. They need to take that action very soon though. Secretary of State Rokita is doing his job and hopefully MicroVote and ES&S will realize that they must meet their contractual and legal obligations in Indiana. As long as officials like Secretary Ireland and the officials in Chicago/Cook County make excuses for their vendors, the voters in those jurisdictions will be losers as will the rest of the nation along with them. Maybe it is time for the voters to take the whole mess to court and tell everyone we are not going to take it anymore.

Until they do, I imagine, the coming train wreck will stay right on course�

UPDATE 4/23/06: The train wreck continues apace. The next updated chapter can now be found right here...