When the State BOE met in the third week of January they were struggling to
retain some semblance of their bureaucratic identity while complying with the Federal District Court’s directives. Impeded by an absolute partisan split, Judge Sharpe’s corrupting time schedule, and a limited offering of Ballot Marking Devices to choose from, the board was initially able to approve only one BMD for purchase by the county Boards of Elections.
The January meeting of the NYS BOE was concurrent with the Election Commissioners Association meeting in Saratoga. With practically all counties represented at that venue most NY County Election Commissioners immediately signed on for the one BMD choice, the Sequoia ImageCast offered by Sequoia Voting Systems (SVS Inc.) of Denver, CO.
Despite the success of vendors’ legal challenges which eventually allowed other choices almost ninety percent of NY Counties and all but one upstate county have maintained their selection of the Sequoia machine. The Justice Department has indicated they will not allow any additional changes.
Posting on ComputerWorld.com and his own blog Brad Friedman reports that almost simultaneously with Sequoia’s NY success a competitor voting equipment company, Hart InterCivic Inc. of Austin TX, launched a hostile takeover of S.V.S. Inc. And we learn that the takeover is facilitated by Sequoia’s two million dollar obligation to their former parent company, Smartmatic Inc., an offshore consortium with ties to the Venezuelan government. www.bradblog.com/?p=5885
Sequoia claimed to have severed ties with Smartmatic after the Smartmatic CEO was denied entry by Homeland Security and, presumably, to avoid a critical review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). However, it now seems that Hart InterCivic wants to purchase that two million dollar lever as their initial volley in the takeover bid. They may be well on their way to accomplishing that goal by the time you read this.
Hart InterCivic has a partner company which provides the software side of their package: SOE Software of Tampa FL. A brief visit to their web page www.soesoftware.com reveals that two of their top management team have previous business relationships with Mobil, Sperry Univac, General Dynamic, IBM, Raytheon, AT&T, MCI and Motorola. This does not give me hope for tamper free elections should Hart have any access to our votes.
Regardless of how this corporate war ends it seems obvious that New York State should take another look at their hopeful voting equipment vendors. The BOE and the State Comptrollers Office have to do a new Vendor Responsibility Investigation (at this writing do not know if this investigation was originally done as required). This investigation would rightly be triggered by either the foreign financial interest in Sequoia or the vendor substitution by Hart, especially since both vendors have been untruthful or are now accused of being untruthful. Don’t expect this to happen. Even if the State did do an investigation the Bush Justice Dept. would render it moot.
More importantly, we need to consider what this is all about, and it's not only about the immediate profit from the sale of voting machines. It's about power and the possibility of much greater future profits. No one knows better than the machine manufacturers and vendors how efficient computerized vote counting can be for controlling elections.
If you doubt this analysis please consider how much money the presidential candidates are spending on their campaigns. That's what control of vote counting is worth, again and again, year after year.
So where does this leave the New York State voters?
Most election integrity activists considered the ImageCast BMD/scanner choice a victory in that it practically and fiscally guaranteed we would be voting on paper ballots in 2009. Not having to cast our ballots using a direct recording electronic voting machine and instead having the inherently verifiable paper ballot is a win, but only a partial win. Our remaining problem is reliance on a software controlled scanner and election management computer programs, all susceptible to manipulation by a variety of untrustworthy corporate actors, election insiders and technocrats, to count our votes.
Unable to rely on state bureaucracies, the Justice Department or Federal Courts to protect us from the threats to voting integrity privatization and lack of transparency represents, the task falls to us. As citizens we have to assume responsibility for the vote count. The verifiable paper ballot is of no service to election integrity unless they are counted by the voters themselves. A scanner using open source software and maintained by municipal workers might be used to confirm the count but the official count has to be the one performed by citizens, at the polling place upon closing of the polls.
I do like to end on a positive note with an action suggestion. We should slaughter the golden goose and disappoint all the wolves that are circling us. We can ban the scanners and decide to hand count the paper ballots. If we did that the wolves would quickly lose interest. Then we will need only to concern ourselves with dealing with each other instead of the corporations.