Saturday, January 14, 2006

Latest (Bad) News on Diebold and ES&S

ES&S reneges on Leon County deal 2 days before HAVA deadline

After pursuing Leon County for a full year, sending a contract, and as the final test conducting a Leon County election on its equipment, two ES&S executives shook hands on a $1.8 million deal with Leon County Election Supervisor Ion Sancho. Right before the HAVA deadine though, Election Systems & Software (ES&S) CEO Aldo Tesi abruptly aborted the Leon County contract.

Leon County's Ion Sancho shook up the voting industry in December when he authorized a security test which proved the Diebold system can be hacked. In short order, Volusia County (FL) dumped Diebold, hastily signing an agreement to purchase ES&S; St. Louis County (MO) dropped its Diebold contract, the state of California refused to certify Diebold (sending its machines back to federal testing labs) and the state of Pennsylvania decertified the Diebold optical scan system. California and Pennsylvania acted on the advice of their own independent voting system examiners, who confirmed problems with the code exploited by Finnish computer expert Harri Hursti to hack the system in Leon County.


Privatization of the voting industry puts election officials in a tough spot. Florida has authorized only three vendors to sell voting equipment (ES&S, Sequoia and Diebold). However, because the vendors are private corporations, they can choose to sell to whomever they want, refusing customers at will.

Sequoia Voting Systems decided not to sell to customers in Ohio, saying the number of sales available was not enough to make a profit. Hart Intercivic chose not to sell to customers in North Carolina, forcing elections officials there to buy only from ES&S.

ES&S decided to sell its machines to Volusia County, a new customer about the same size as Leon County, while denying its machines to Leon County. Nothing prevents a vendor from refusing to sell to counties deemed too small to turn a profit, or to jurisdictions they simply don't like.

The federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) denies funds to counties that don't purchase voting machines, states dictate which vendors are approved, and vendors dictate to whom they will sell.


"It looks like I've got two bad actors to deal with [ES&S and Diebold], and neither one of them is acting responsibly in my opinion. What do I do to serve the best interests of the citizens of Leon County?" says Sancho. "HAVA has forced us to purchase systems that in my opinion are not appropriate for citizens to be voting on, but as Dickens says, 'The law is an ass.'"


Sancho's problems with Diebold accelerated after he allowed security tests, revealing a problem with the GEMS central tabulator and the optical scan memory card design. Dr. Herbert Thompson demonstrated on Feb. 14 and May 2 last year that he was able to gain control of the "mother ship" – the central tabulator that counts votes from all the precinct machines. Finnish expert Harri Hursti demonstrated on May 26 that he was able to alter results tapes using a rigged memory card, and on Dec. 13, rigged an entire mock election from start to finish using a memory card.

ES&S had solicited Mr. Sancho in December 2004, but Sancho did not offer an affirmative response. However, with HAVA deadlines looming, Diebold was hitching their wagon solely to touch-screen voting, and in Florida, touch-screens do not provide a paper trail. Sancho favored the AutoMark, a disability-approved technology distributed by ES&S which does produce a paper ballot.

In June 2005, shortly after the May security tests by Thompson and Hursti, Sancho approached ES&S to inquire about purchasing the AutoMark.

"I called ES&S and said, 'Can I get deep discounts over the price if I go with AutoMark?' They crowed about it [the opportunity to do business]. They said 'Absolutely, both on our M100s [optical scan machines] and on the AutoMark.'"

Sancho began thinking even more seriously about dumping Diebold when, on July 13 at 11:09 a.m. he received a letter warning him that Diebold would not support his system if he purchased Automark for the disabled. In the state of Illinois, Diebold apparently has not made the same threat, and on Jan. 9 this year Illinois certified the AutoMark for use with Diebold optical scanners.

Matters got worse. Leon County was paying $6,000 a year for an active contract with Diebold to provide software upgrades. The state of Florida had certified a central tabulator upgrade, GEMS 1.18.19, in March 2005.

In August, Sancho was notifed that the city of Tallahassee was going to conduct a referendum.

"I contacted Diebold and asked, 'Why haven't we receved 18.19?" Sancho says. "I was placed on hold and then shifted to Michael Lindroos [the attorney for the Diebold, Inc. board of directors].

"I asked Mr. Lindroos, I said 'We have a contract with you for the software, there seems to be some stalling for the receipt of this software.' He directly told me we would not receive the new software unless we signed a new contract.

"Now, I have a signed check here, Diebold cashed the check. They’re in breach of their contract."


ES&S and Leon County proceeded ahead for the transition from Diebold to ES&S.

As the last step for the sale, Sancho told ES&S, "We’re going to require one test. We'll use your equipment on November 17, and if it performs satisfactorily we'll proceed. It performed well, and we received the contract. I spoke with Al Benek (VP Operations) and Dick Fox (VP Accounting). ES&S invited our staff to join the ES&S users group. We were treated as if we were already a member of the ES&S community."

"Everything seemed copacetic. I told them we had their estimate and would they cut off $50,000 off their estimate. Mr Fox said not a problem, Mr. Benek said not a problem. We shook hands on the deal. They sent the contract back to ES&S for the adjustment, and I waited to get it so I could cut the check.

Near the end of December, Sancho received a call from the Florida representative for ES&S, telling him there was a problem.

"He said, 'You need to talk to the president,'" Sancho says. "I said certainly, I volunteered to fly to Nebraska to directly talk to him face to face."

They ended up setting up a conference call. And on Dec. 29, just two days
before the HAVA deadline, Sancho got the final decision by way of a message
left on his voicemail.

Gary Crump, from ES&S, said in the recorded message that ES&S had made a decision not to sell to Leon County, claiming that the resources of ES&S were stretched to the limit and therefore they had decided only to sell to existing customers, and customers they had been pursuing and involved with for a long time.

Whatever. That doesn't explain why they just sold a system to Volusia County, when it dumped Diebold on Dec. 17, nor why ES&S sold their system to a number of other jurisdictions in the U.S.

"They praised Leon County as recognized as an industry leader but said 'We just can't provide you the equipment,'" said Sancho. "Coming as it did at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, we are now subject to losing almost $600,000 of HAVA monies, and ES&S chose not to fulfill approximately 1.8 million in sales."

This includes a decision to decline to sell the AutoMark, which may violate ES&S's agreement with the makers of AutoMark.


What's next? Sancho admits he's been on the front lines, and that it's no fun to take bullets from the voting industry while he stands his ground on behalf of the voters of Leon County. He's playing his cards close to the vest.

"We have made preliminary contacts with legal representatives of Diebold pursuant to a number of issues," he says.

Ion Sancho is to be credited not only with taking a stand on behalf of his voters. He has forced the voting machine vendors to show their true colors, and honest elections officials throughout the country are struggling with untenable options.

America, if ever there was a time to stand shoulder to shoulder, and show support of an American hero, this is the time.

The time has come for a congressional investigation with subpeona power and testimony under penalty of perjury. This can be state or federal. Whoever gets Diebold and ES&S and key figures in the certification process under oath first will join Sancho in the history books.

[Permission to reprint with link to]

*hysterical laughter*

Only Fafblog could make the Court this funny. Fafnir interviews Samuel Alito

(be sure to read to the bit about divining the Founders' original intent)

Environmental Refugees Not Just People?

Kenya's Elephants Suffering from Drought, Clash with People over Resources

"Elephants in Kenyan national parks and reserves are leaving their drought-stricken sanctuaries to search for water and food near human settlements, where they have attacked starving people trying to protect their crops."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Awesome Map!

China map lays claim to Americas. Wow. I NEED a reproduction of this map.

A map due to be unveiled in Beijing and London next week may lend weight to a theory a Chinese admiral discovered America before Christopher Columbus.
The map, which shows North and South America, apparently states that it is a 1763 copy of another map made in 1418

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Impeachment, Alito, "Unitary Executive"

Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, in Article, Calls for Impeachment Proceedings Against Bush

"Like many others, I have been deeply troubled by Bush’s breathtaking scorn for our international treaty obligations under the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions. I have also been disturbed by the torture scandals and the violations of U.S. criminal laws at the highest levels of our government they may entail. ... These concerns have been compounded by growing evidence that the President deliberately misled the country into the war in Iraq. But it wasn’t until the most recent revelations that President Bush directed the wiretapping of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- and argued that, as Commander in Chief, he had the right in the interests of national security to override our country’s laws -- that I felt the same sinking feeling in my stomach as I did during Watergate." [Emphasis added]

The Court told Nixon, Mr. "Imperial Presidency", that he didn't.

George Bush's Rough Justice

The Unitary Executive: Scholar says Bush has used obscure doctrine to extend power 95 times

The doctrine assumes, in its extreme form, nearly absolute deference to the Executive branch from Congress and the Judiciary.

Which, of course, destroys the tension, the balance of power between the three branches (what we call "checks and balances" or the "separation of powers"). Our equilibrium.

The Unitary Executive: Is The Doctrine Behind the Bush Presidency Consistent with a Democratic State?

Noting that when Bush recently signed the torture law, he did so with a "Presidential signing statement" that interpreted the law in such a way as to give him carte blanche to torture anyway. "President Bush has used presidential signing statements more than any previous president."

The Unitary Executive During the Third Half-Century, 1889-1945(abstract). Interesting looking paper. And, its followup, The Unitary Executive in the Modern Era (direct link to the PDF)