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SF Again says "No" to Sequoia

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Message Alan Dechert
Dear Friends of Open Voting:

Yesterday, San Francisco supervisors again held firm and told Sequoia no deal
without disclosure. The Sequoia contract was number 2 on the agenda, and took
very little time. There wasn't that much to say after last week, and only a few
of us got up and spoke during the public comments time. It will be on the
agenda again next week. This can't continue very long before Sequoia will be
forced to walk away.

There was more in print about it today, and I've copied two articles below from
the San Francisco Examiner [1] and the San Francisco Chronicle [2]. The
Chronicle article is straight forward reporting.

The Examiner article repeats a couple of specious claims made by Sequoia and the
SF Director of Elections, John Arntz. It is not true that the Sequoia deal
would be more economical, and Sequoia's claim that the security of their systems
would be compromised by disclosure is absurd. I will address these issues more
thoroughly in a letter I am preparing for members of the Board of Supervisors.

Thank you.

Alan Dechert

[1] see

Software fight delays use of high-tech ballots

John Arntz, The City's election director, says that in the last election, 25
percent of voting machines needed in-field service on Election Day. Joshua
Sabatini, The Examiner
Feb 22, 2007 3:00 AM

SAN FRANCISCO - San Franciscans may vote using costlier and older machines this
November as voter rights advocates staunchly oppose a proposed contract between
The City and an electronic voting machine company until it agrees to reveal its
software secrets.

Electronic voting machines throughout the nation have come under fire by voter
rights advocates who say keeping private how the software counts the votes could
lead to voter fraud and provides no assurance that every vote is, in fact,

The City's election director, John Arntz, is trying to convince the Board of Supervisors to approve a $12.6 million contract with Sequoia Voting
Systems Inc. in time to put brand-new machines in place for the November

Arntz said the existing voting machines are old and in the last election at
least 25 percent of the machines required in-field service on Election Day.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee refused for the second
time on Wednesday to send the contract out of committee for full board approval.
Supervisor Chris Daly, who chairs the committee, has indicated he will not allow
the contract out of committee until Sequoia agrees to publicly release its
software and how it counts the votes. San Francisco would become one of the
first cities to require an electronic voting machine company to publicly
disclose its software.

"Nobody and no machine should be counting votes in secret. And that's what at
issue here today," senior software consultant Jim Soper said.

Arntz said if The City does not approve the Sequoia contract it will have to extend the existing contract and pay $4 million, for maintenance and operation
of the old system, for the four elections in 2007 and 2008.

The Sequoia contract would result in The City paying $6.8 million over four
years with half of the contract cost coming from state and federal grants. The
City would not be able to use any of the grant money for the old system.

Steven Bennet, a Sequoia representative, said Sequoia won't agree to public
disclosure since it would "jeopardize the security to all of our customers in
California and across the country." Electronic voting machine companies also
want to keep their software secret for proprietary reasons.

Under the contract, The City would receive 610 optical scan voting machines
(machines that read a paper ballot) and 610 touch-screen voter machines,
intended for use only by the disabled.

Very few people will use the touch-screen machines, which would keep a paper
record of each vote within the machine itself, according to Arntz. He said the
system will remain paper-based and the voters won't notice any difference.


[2] see http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/02/22/BAGFMO8UDR1.DTL
This article appeared on page B - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Supes want to know how voting machines count
Company balks at public disclosure, offers alternative
Robert Selna, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, February 22, 2007

San Francisco supervisors told representatives of a voting machine company
Wednesday that the firm will need to publicly display details of the software it
uses to count ballots in order to win a $12.6 million, four-year contract with
the city.

At a Budget and Finance Committee hearing, Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Chris
Daly urged representatives of Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland to place
software codes for touch-screen voting devices and paper ballot-scanning
machines on the Internet or in another public forum, so the public can review
how the machines tabulate votes.

Some counties have adopted touch-screen voting in response to suspicions about
the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida. But computer experts have
warned that the devices are susceptible to fraud and programming errors.

Most of San Francisco's current voting machines use an optical scan to read
paper ballots. The city also requires at least one touch-screen device to be
installed in each of the city's 561 polling stations to make voting easier for
the disabled.

The city's Department of Elections negotiated a contract with Sequoia in which
the company would install a new system by this November's elections, but it did
not require that the firm reveal its software. The contract would cost the
city's general fund $6.8 million, and the remaining $5.8 million would come from
federal and state sources.

Under the City Charter, the contract is subject to Board of Supervisors approval
because it totals more than $10 million. Daly and Ammiano have held up the deal
because they want full disclosure of the firm's voting device software codes.

"I have concerns about the public trust, and right now the contract language
does not have satisfactory language that requires public disclosure of the
source codes that determine how votes are counted." Ammiano said. "Those codes
are considered proprietary and only available to the vendor."

Representatives of Sequoia said the company would make the codes available to a
third party that could review the software and certify for the city that the
machines count votes properly and are not susceptible to fraud.

Ammiano and Daly were unenthusiastic about the offer, but did not commit one way
or the other. Daly, the committee's chairman, placed the issue on hold to be
discussed later. The third member of the committee, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, was
on vacation.

The delay places Elections Director John Arntz in a bind. He said he must know
in the next few weeks whether the contract with Sequoia will go through because
he needs to replace existing machines, train election workers and make other preparations for the Nov. 6 election.

If the contract with Sequoia is not approved soon, Arntz said, the Elections
Department will propose a yearlong deal with Election Systems and Software Inc.
of Nebraska, whose contract to supply voting machines was extended after
expiring in 2005.

Arntz said the city would ultimately lose money if it goes that route. An
agreement with Election Systems will cost the city $4 million for one year and
cannot be supplemented with state or federal funds.

E-mail Robert Selna at rselna@sfchronicle.com

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Alan Dechert is the CEO of Open Voting Consortium.
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