Saturday, April 08, 2006

Can We Trust Automated Voting Systems?

Here in Indiana there has lately been a lot of criticism directed at the providers of new electronic voting systems. Election Systems & Software has provided new electronic voting systems to Marion, Hancock and Johnson Counties. The Star writes today:

Election Systems & Software, the company that provides election equipment to Marion, Johnson and Hancock counties, is under fire for incorrect ballots and delays in mailing the ballots and for not updating voting machine technology. The issues are serious enough that a member of the Indiana Election Commission said Friday the company could face some sort of action. Personally, my opinion is that I think it is very likely it will be an agenda item," said Tom John, a Republican on the commission. "The bottom line in an election, if it impacts one vote, then it's a problem."

In Illinois, an election systems provider for Cook County, which includes Chicago, is facing much more serious charges in the wake of a debacle in the counting of Illinois' March primary votes there. A respected, long-time Chicago Alderman, Edward Burke, "accused the Venezuelan-owned company at the center of the ballot-counting debacle March 21 of being part of an 'international conspiracy to subvert the electoral process' in the United States" reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Burke, an attorney whose wife Anne is in line to take a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court being vacated by a retiring justice, directed his charges at Sequoia Voting Systems, more than 90 percent of which is owned by the Mugicas, a family of Venezuelan nationals. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been an outspoken critic of the United States and a friendly supporter of Cuba's long-time communist dictator Fidel Castro. Burke was reacting to problems in tabulating Cook County's March primary election results, which took nearly a week before any finality could be reached. As the Sun-Times explained:

For the first time, voters in Chicago and suburban Cook County used touch-screen and optical scan machines in the March 21 primary. But when election judges tried to merge results of the two systems, many of the machines failed. That forced vote-counting to drag on for a week. Candidates in a handful of races were sitting on pins and needles, and suburban tax referendums hung in the balance. Neal has withheld $16 million in payments to Sequoia and unveiled an 11-point plan to correct the system's problems, focusing on better training of election judges and finding fixes for the company's flawed software.

At a city council hearing discussing the election-day debacle of the Sequoia voting system's, Burke cross-examined executives of the company about its Venezuelan ties. The Sun-Times recounts Burke's grilling of company officials:

On Friday, Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) questioned Sequoia president Jack Blaine, Perry Mason-style, about the company's Venezuelan
ownership. The cross-examination not only traced the ownership of Sequoia through as Burke put it, "four countries, two hemispheres and three shell corporations." It evoked what Burke called the "mind-boggling" disclosure that 15 Venezuelan nationals had traveled to Chicago on March 21 to provide "technical support" and oversee the tabulation of votes. "Because of the disastrous results of the election March 21, we've stumbled across what could be the international conspiracy to subvert the electoral process in the United States of America," Burke said. "I'm saying that the potential for tampering with the American electoral process -- where presidential elections can be determined by just one state -- exists here. . . . Don't you think that [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez would love to be able to control elections in the United States of America? This is just the beginning."

Electronic voting systems originally promised us cleaner and better elections free of human error and corruption. But these recent stories leads one to wonder whether we can truly trust the integrity of these costly new electronic systems.

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