The market for voting systems has been a perilous one, especially for small companies. While firms can potentially land contracts to sell large numbers of systems to localities across the country looking to replace older voting machines, they must navigate a complex maze of state and federal certification procedures, endure local procurement fights, close scrutiny and meet demand for a large number of voting systems, sometimes in a severely compressed time schedule.
The realities of the market most recently took its toll on the voting-machine maker AccuPoll, which filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, leaving two counties in Texas using its products with no vendor support and a frustrated former CEO in its wake.
The company, which produced the AVS-1000, a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT)-equipped touch-screen machine, has ceased all operations.
AccuPoll's voting system was federally certified in 2005 to the 2002 Voting System Standards. It received state certification in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The machines have also been used by unions and private organizations.
Only two counties nationally - both in Texas - purchased the machines, a decision that now leaves them without vendor support with AccuPoll's dismantling.
And it also leaves the company's former head fuming about the nature of the voting-machine business.
"I am not happy about the outcome, or the state of the industry. I think that something needs to be done. I'm not sure what it is, it probably doesn't include AccuPoll at this point, but I do not feel that any of the vendors has a system that voters can trust," said Dennis Vadura, former AccuPoll CEO.
"I think that vendors outright misrepresent the robustness, stability, and security of their systems. You just have to look at the litany of problems and it points at one thing, bad fundamental design, and not enough checks and balances. I also wonder why the other vendors were so adamant in fighting a VVPAT system requirement. They spent much more in fighting it than in implementing it," he said.
As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last August, and in recent reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (click here and here for reports), questions arose about some of the company's investors and accounting procedures. Vadura dismissed the press as "a bit of a smear" and stood by his company's accounting.
He said these questions did not lead to the bankruptcy, they just added to the strain on the company.
"It was too little business too late. Our investors were fed up with funding the company, and not winning business," Vadura said.
He also described a difficult experience in dealing with the government procurement process.
"I am extremely jaded by the government procurement and purchasing game. In some cases I would point the finger at sheer incompetence on the part of the procurement officers. Some of it is also due to them not wanting to take risk, or not wanting to make a decision for political reasons."
Those that did take the risk - the two counties in Texas - reported that both voters and officials that used AccuPoll said they were pleased with the performance of the machines and its VVPAT component during the March primary, even though they know going forward they will be administrating without a support network from the vendor.
"That's why we liked it," said Jane Jones, Delta County clerk, referring to the paper trail.
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