Legal Threats from Sequoia Voting Systems Force County to Cancel Plans for Independent Analysis of the State's Own Voting System
Livermore Labs Scientist Urges Readers to Contact NJ AG to Ask for Technical Review of Same Flawed Machines Set to be Used Next Month in PA...
By Brad Friedman on 3/18/2008, 2:17pm PT  

-- Brad Friedman

Sequoia Voting Systems' legal threats against Princeton computer science professors and New Jersey election officials, as we reported in exclusive detail last night, have apparently had their intended effect.

The strong-arm email sent to professors Ed Felten and Andrew Appel was apparently accompanied by a two-page letter to Union County, New Jersey, Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, who originally discovered a tally failure in Sequoia's AVC Advantage touch-screen voting machines after the February 5th Super Tuesday election. The same error was subsequently discovered in at least five other counties.

Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello tells the New Jersey Times that Sequoia's decision to block an independent analysis of its touch-screen voting machines makes no sense if the firm is confident that they work properly.

"I think it's unfortunate that they're not letting an independent investigation take place," Sollami-Covello tells the paper this morning. "They should have no problem with having a third party investigate the product if they are confident in their product."

Another Mercer County, NJ, official sent a letter to the state Attorney General criticizing Sequoia's bizarre explanation for failures discovered in the systems following state's recent Primary Election, characterizing what he describes as the company's "strange, confusing solution." He said the company's explanation for the problem, which succeeded in blaming voters and poll workers as usual, was based on a "bizarre scenario, with no cited evidence or testimony" to back it up.

While NJ's state clerks association had voted unanimously to recommend that the Attorney General commission an independent study of the machines --- the same ones which will be used across the state of Pennsylvania in next month's key Democratic Primary Election --- Union County's plan to move forward with their own study has been nixed due to the legal threats sent from Sequoia's VP of "Compliance/Quality/Certification" Edwin Smith, according to a number of New Jersey papers today.

Amazingly (or perhaps, not so much at this point), Union County's attorneys folded to the pressure from the company, which claimed that Election Officials in NJ --- who spent millions on the voting systems --- are not legally allowed to examine them independently because "the voting machine software is a Sequoia 'trade secret' and cannot be handed over to any third-party."

Fear of a lawsuit from Sequoia, which will also control the state's elections in an upcoming June primary, as well as the November general election, has led to county attorneys backing down from their plans for the time being, unless the state AG jumps in to take action.

In the threatening email from Smith to the Princeton professors sent last Friday, as posted here in full last night, the company executive threatened legal action if a "non-compliant analysis" of their voting systems was carried out. "We will also take appropriate steps to protect against any publication of Sequoia software, its behavior, reports regarding same or any other infringement of our intellectual property," Smith warned.

The Star-Ledger reports the latest, almost mind-numbingly incredible, developments in your democracy, now fully and completely in the hands of privatized corporate America, this morning...

A Sequoia executive, Edwin Smith, put Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi on notice that an independent analysis would violate the licensing agreement between his firm and the county. In a terse two-page letter, Smith also argued the voting machine software is a Sequoia "trade secret" and cannot be handed over to any third-party.

Last week, Rajoppi had persuaded the statewide clerks' association to hire Felten, who made national headlines two years ago when he demonstrated how a computer virus could alter the result on Diebold voting machines.

The Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey called for the independent review to insure the integrity of the election process. Sequoia maintained the errors, which were documented in at least five counties, occurred due to mistakes by poll workers.
...
On the advice of the county's attorneys, however, Rajoppi said she must forgo all plans for independent analysis.

"We're not going to proceed and invite a lawsuit," said Norman Albert, first deputy counsel in Union County.

It wouldn't be the first time an election official expressed fear of facing a voting machine vendor in court. A number of them have expressed both publicly and privately to The BRAD BLOG their concern about holding these companies legally accountable, given that they must rely on the same companies to run their next election.

Rutgers University law professor Penny Venetis stated what should be quite obvious in the Star-Ledger article today...

"We shouldn't have a corporation dictating how elections are run in the state," Venetis said. "If an elected official believes there was an anomaly and the matter has to be investigated, then the official should be able to consult with computer experts without interference."

Union County Clerk Rajoppi said she was "disappointed we cannot go forward with some type of independent study."

John Carbone, an attorney representing the state clerks association, summed up the sorry situation: "We don't have access to the machines, so we can't do anything."

Livermore Laboratory's computer scientist David Jefferson jumped in to comment on our story yesterday, which included the full threatening email sent to the Princeton Professors, in order to note the importance of such a test being carried out on New Jersey's Sequoia machines prior to the use of the very same systems next month in Pennsylvania.

"We have only a matter of weeks before the Pennsylvania primary in which the same machines will be used in Philadelphia, and only a few months more until the general election," Jefferson wrote. "This bug (and any others discovered) must be fixed."

He went on to point out that New Jersey's Attorney General Ann Milgram "currently holds certification authority comparable to [Secretaries of State] in other states," and that she could order such an independent technical review, but that she has not done so to date. She "seems disinclined to," according to the scientist who has worked on a number of state e-voting studies across the country.

"If BradBlog readers want to help," he writes, "they could write Ms. Milgram and politely impress upon her the seriousness of the problem...and ask her to support the Princeton review or commission her own independent technical review."

Milgram's office can be counted a number of ways, via this web page.

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