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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Was the ES&S Contract Selection Predetermined? (or is "class," openness & saving taxpayer millions just not a good fit in Cuyahoga politics?)

In the following clip, you can hear a portion of the positives the two Democratic board members said last night in their "apology speeches" to Hart, for once again appearing to execute their seeming baseline job - making sure, (by 2/2 tie-vote blocking, or by promoting,) that SoS Brunner gets what Brunner wants in Cuyahoga. In this case, it seems that preference may have been ES&S people and technology winning the (more expensive) multi-million dollar, years long contract, and in control for November's presidential election.

Below we'll begin to explore some general questions:

I. Did the Ohio SoS and Cuyahoga Commissioners maintain a preference for ES&S and its voting equipment prior to the formal procurement process in Cuyahoga?
  • R-Rob Frost, after 11pm, cast the first tie-breaking vote in over 6 months on such similar vendor matters - voting yes on Dem-McNair's second motion for ES&S-adoption, but a motion that leaves the Commissioners to come to money/performance/warranty terms with the ES&S.
    Apparently the board could not accomplish arriving at agreeable contractual terms with ES&S yesterday, in their hours of executive session attempts - though they adopted the company - and though their completed negotiations with the other company, Hart, took only minutes (as at the 6/12 meeting.)
    Frost, apparently OK with both systems- though having opened the late-night, public, decision-making portion of the 5pm meeting with a motion, to choose Hart InterCivic - he, in the end, voted yes on the second McNair motion, seemingly in part, to move on; and to demonstrate that the board could make such a decision without another Secretary of State's direct intervention (- breaking another tie as she did in January, which caused all central count and got ES&S firmly planted in Cuyahoga's pocketbooks and vote tabulation.) Chair, Jeff Hastings cast the one dissenting vote.
  • After the meeting, Frost answered the PD's Joe Guillen's question about the the public's sense of inevitability of another 2/2 tie, and Brunner breaking it, getting her ES&S "win." Frost affirmed that ES&S has been Brunner's "preference" for Cuyahoga for November:
  • It should be noted that this seeming SoS preference did not come after Cuyahoga's supposedly easy transition into ES&S for March's supposedly "successful" election - which was one "reason" put forth last night for again choosing ES&S for November. Another was how much the staff had already learned from them and about their equipment.
    What is characterized as ES&S's excellent service for our transition, could also be perceived as a their tax-paid windfall, where the company made sure the wind kept blowing their way:
    Pictured directly below:
    The $1500/day, each, 18-20 ES&S people who were in Cuyahoga, running our scanners, one running the tabulator, from 3/2 through 3/5 for absentee and polling ballot scanning.
    (Below, from an Observer's "view" through chain link fence, ES&S huddles after the first day of absentee scanning, 3/2. What is now being termed ES&S "good service" could seem more like an ES&S goldmine.

    Below (from the roped Observer's "view" in the tabulator area) we have the ES&S ($1500/day) Project Manager still - on 5/1/08, at the end of the post-election's "audit" from March - the only one running and understanding the results-tabulator, while CCBOE personnel must only watch the non-thoroughly understood workings.

    And below, an interim shot, on 3/29 near the end of the first day of the official count of absentee ballots. Though CCBOE personnel was running the scanners that time, (film to be posted) while an avalanche of ballot "remakes" was rather inexplicably being necessitated, with the "overvote button turned on" unlike when the ES&S people ran the scanners, (to be explained in another post) - here you will see the two ($1500/day each) ES&S workers (at right) - running the all important tabulator, (also there fixing mal-working scanners;) while Brian Cleary, the highly competent CCBOE Ballot Dept. Assist. Manager, stands to the left, required to ask ES&S for what he needs.

  • It seems that Brunner possibly "preferred" ES&S even in Dec./Jan. when she (let's face it) "forced" a board vote, then "broke the 2/2 tie" for "all central count with high speed central scanners" uniquely here, (and in 2 very small counties who may have gotten state money for new machines) - which for March, got ES&S's "foot firmly in Cuyahoga's door" - with the no-alternative "choice" of ES&S "high-speed," (and very "legacy" optical technology) machines. (Hart's are called "high volume.")
    Pictures: directly below you can see some of the equipment in question:
    ES&S M650 optical scanner, top, a front view.
    Directly below, M650 from back (with inside opened & with dot matrix printers below,) while a third $1500/day ES&S service person is again
    fixing "pick belts," "read heads" and more, inside one of the 15 scanners. CCBOE Ballot Adminstratro is center,watching. CCBOE staff did not fix any of frequent scanner failures.

    This is the Hart/Kodak digital central scanner:

  • Lets review just a few dates, keeping in mind that we've been told that it was the scientific findings of the 3-month, (Sept. '07 - December '07) $1.9M, tax-paid EVEREST study that caused Sec. Brunner to (lets face it) "force" Cuyahoga (uniquely among the OH 88 counties) into "a transition to paper ballots" last March, and into all central-count, with a no other alternative choice than ES&S M650 scanners, Unity tabulator, thus also their people.
    1. December 7, 2007 EVEREST Report release (and prior?)
      Brunner seemed to "prefer" ES&S before the Everest report was done last December (actually, possibly even before it started,) exemplified in the report's 86 page " Executive Summary," the last 10 pages of which are the SoS "Recommendations" - for which one is hard pressed to find relationship to, let alone support from, the actual Everest findings themselves.
      (Though I may have missed it, I could no longer locate the link for that particular "Executive Summary" on the SoS's new website. You can download the "legacy" copy here.)
      In those "Recommendations" then, she had already recommended the ES&S AutoMark, for every OH county for ADA access (though not supported by Everest findings)- which would also necessitate most other ES&S equipment - and oddly, she even showed the AutoMark price in those "Recommendations."
    2. January 14, 2008 - In her Directive 08-17, a statewide survey of voting equipment and costs, "oddly" she was particularly surveying what ES&S M650's and AutoMarks, were already in hand throughout the state - not also specifically listing other vendors' equipment. (see page 5.)
    3. January 17, 2008 - the Secretary breaks the Cuyahoga board's 2/2 tie vote for central count with ES&S in March, against the board's other suggested choice - to take more time to think through the huge change and the only one-ES&S "option", and need to implement in less than 2 months: to investigate vendors and equipment within 75 days after the March election, then make a decision.
    4. March 4, 2008 - May 2, 2008
      When ES&S principals were in Cuyahoga for March, they stated that they were going back to Columbus to meet with the SoS again before going home to Omaha. And Jerry, the Project Manager seen above, said with some certainty on his last day (5/2) from the Primary election in Cuyahoga, "I'll be back."
    But let's go even earlier:
    It appears that Secretary Brunner and the Cuyahoga County Commissioners probably had prior visits by ES&S representatives as exemplified by:
    1. 9/25/07 - An ES&S proposal, dated 9/25/07 was presented to the Commissioners, before Everest even started, apparently in reply to a request for a "transition plan" to paper ballots - though at least no one with whom I've spoken knows of any publicly made RFP or other announcement at that time; it seems that no other bidders were had; and the public at CCBOE did not seem to know of any vendor bidding then. (In fact 5 days before, on 9/20, the board was holding "a public technology" forum, where we were speaking about the prospect of the Everest study beginning and about the then-current vendor, Diebold/Premier.)
      That there had been discussion with the Dem. Commissioners before 9/25/07 about ES&S moving into Cuyahoga seems apparent from the last page of the 8-page proposal, starting with "Confirm transition plan...."

      The date is on the first page of the proposal and interestingly, you'll also see handwritten there the approximate same $13+M amount they are charging Cuyahoga now; but you'll also find the same equipment proposal for then as now, the M100's, traded for DS200's, except the latter were being promised ready for the May '08 election, and now they're being promised to be ready for the May '09 election. (There is talk that ES&S ran out of optical precinct scanning equipment to deliver to Cuyahoga for the March '08 election. Is that true? an excuse for something else? Is that why Cuyahoga had to move to very election-risky, all central count ?? ....with the 15 "gulag-looking/sounding" "legacy" scanners that the board wants to buy now?)
    2. 9/10/07 - Just to confirm that EVEREST could not have prompted that 9/25/07 proposal for the "transition to paper ballots" - that date was only 15 days after the date of the Everest testers contracts, 9/10/07. Here, you can download 2 of those contract attachments to the SoS application to the OH Controlling Board for the $1.9 M funding of the not-yet started study, both dated 9/10/07 - the December results of which is said to have led the way to her push the "transition."

      (Note: Paper ballots still are electronic elections run by proprietary, secret, manipulatable software. Though one may not actually cast a vote electronically, the software (and the people programming, running and controlling it) is doing the all important vote recording and counting, that determine the electronic reports that tell us our "winners.")

    II. Is there a connection from the SoS to the Commissioners to ES&S? In Dem circles (I've been a lifelong, "pleb" registered Dem...) the SoS/Commissioner connection seems a given.

    • Aside from any other possible dealings, also enter Tom Hayes, (pictured in the ES&S mono-shirted "huddle" near the top of this post, the tallest near the rear.) He's a former CCBOE Director; November '06 CCBOE "project manager" selected and pulled in by former chair of the board, R-Bob Bennett & D-Commissioners, for about $60K for 4 months work, so Michael Vu could stay on, salaried/could "resign"/not let any cats out of any bags/ and so an election could happen.
      Until recently Hayes' LNE Group was a lobbyist for the Cuy. Commissioners; and in an overlapping position, he is still a lobbyist for ES&S.
    (These politics are not really about D's or R's, they are about power, money and control - apparently even of "elections" - one of the biggest "tipping points." It would be interesting, but probably impossible, to actually see how the Commissioners (and maybe the SoS) negotiate the "you give me this and I'll give you that" "coming to Cuyahoga contract terms" with ES&S now.)

    III. And what about the Director's recommendations for ES&S? - to acquire the more expensive system "because the county had a successful March 4 primary using the company's equipment, which the county had rented;" and to "build upon what we have now"?
    • First, it is to be noted that under Ohio law, just as election boards are mandated to be comprised of 2 D's and 2 R's, (allowing 2/2 tie votes and the Secretary breaking them for own wishes to manifest;) also regarding all Ohio election officials, the law states they are there to "serve at the pleasure of" the (non-overseen,) chief election official, the Secretary of State. That means their literal jobs, and support for, or negation of whatever they do comes from that one office. A peek into that culture shows that status-quo seems ongoingly engendered.
    • Also, having been at the 40th street Warehouse space a majority of days as an election Observer, where the counting, recounting, and auditing were happening following the March election, and where the equipment is used and stored, I can state that both the Director and the Deputy Director were there only very rarely - (unlike former elections, with all tasks at Euclid & 30th) and almost as if they didn't want to know how their supposed "success" was being created. They didn't really see the equipment and the ES&S techs in real action, and the lack of learning for the staff/the amount of ES&S control that was fostered.
    • Also, it is to be noted, as in a previous post, that in informal talks with many attending the 6/20 procurement meeting and those before, during the board's closed-door sessions - including some from the CCBOE Ballot staff who actually must use the equipment to make our ballots and get our election results - the vast majority preferred the Hart system and people, mostly because they seemed so much more honest; less expensive; having priorities and capabilities that match fair election priorities, and Cuyahaoga's ability to become independent from them; and because they made it easier to learn and use.
    • And what's the Director's connection to the SoS, the Commissioners, and Hayes? She came to the CCBOE from an administrative position in the Commissioners' office, and is a friend with Hayes.

    And the beat goes on... and on...and on...

    And so last night's 6/20/08 meeting went. Almost the first 5 hours were spent in board executive session, and the lawyers coming to agreeable terms with each vendor - with Hart, briefly; with ES&S, still unfinished.

    Here's what Joe Guillen of the PD wrote after the meeting. (He toughed the wait out, along with CCBOE managers, a few others, and the vendors - with the SoS reps leaving a couple of hours in - to await a report....)
    Cuyahoga Elections Board picks Election Systems & Software's $13.4 million scanning system

    Posted by Joe Guillen June 21, 2008 08:32AM
    Categories: Elections

    The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections picked a new voting system Friday, but it will be up to the county commissioners to approve the deal.

    After meeting for six hours, most of that time behind closed doors, the four-member board selected Election Systems & Software's $13.4 million ballot-scanning system. That system was chosen over another scanning system offered by Hart InterCivic for $9.7 million.

    The board voted 3-1, with Republican Chairman Jeff Hastings casting the dissenting vote because of the cost. He said he had confidence in the other system.

    At one point, the board deadlocked 2-2. Then the board reconvened behind closed doors and Republican Rob Frost changed his vote and sided with Democrats Sandy McNair and Inajo Davis Chappell.

    Elections Director Jane Platten recommended the more expensive system because the county had a successful March 4 primary using the company's equipment, which the county had rented.

    "Building upon what we have now, in my opinion, has less risk than starting from scratch less than four months before the presidential election," Platten said afterward. "It's time this agency has stability."

    The commissioners, who meet next week, have the final say on the deal because they control the county's budget.

    The new system will allow the county to scan ballots at the polls, which is a state law requirement that went into effect this year.

    If you want to assess for yourself what just happened, both people and dynamic, that will be running Cuyahoga's November election and election results...and seemingly for years to come, see
    including the film from the 6/12 meeting when it seemed there really was a choice; see the earlier, "6/10 The Vendor Choice Continues" which contains links to the interim bid packages; see other film here about the Cuyahoga's March election, (some yet to be posted;) as public information, request copies of the final contracts and bids, and discern for yourself; and see the film below.

    (Note: For clarity, I am not saying that adopting Hart InterCivic
    would have been a certain Cuyahoga election panacea. But I can say that the vast majority of the people at the meeting (- except those cementing the $4-5M greater ES&S decision -) including staff who must use and run the equipment, preferred the Hart equipment and people - because of their ease of learning, handling; and even for the attending public, because of the Hart honesty and election priorities they felt had been presented.) In fact, that is not really the larger point of this post. Nor am I in any way connected to Hart, or certainly, to any other electronic election system vendor.

    Here's the film of the short public parts of last night's, 6/20 meeting:

    Clip 1

    Clip 2

    Just a
    few of the natural questions that must follow are:
    • Why would a Secretary of State, or any other partisan official possibly hold a strong purchase "preference" for a particular electronic voting and tabulating system - all with unseen "counting," and potential for both "inside" and "outside" non-discoverable election results manipulation; all which would enrich a chosen vendor by varying millions with county tax-payer funds (ES&S the most) - for Ohio, and particularly for the largest voting district in the state, and particularly for the Presidential election ?
    • What was the role, if any, of Tom Hayes in this procurement process and was there a conflict of interest?
    • Exactly how were the contract terms with ES&S finally finalized with the Commissioners?
    • What specific attributes of the ES&S proposal led the CCBOE to award the contract to ES&S, having exceeded the closest bid by $5M?


Jack Ellul said...

You mean Cuyahoga opted to pay $5M more for a proprietary and outdated system over an off-the-shelf, mainstream and current (digital Kodak) system? That's outrageous!

The states attorney should investigate the relationships involved in the bidding process, because this smells terrible.

Seems to no longer matter whether its Dem, Rep or other party in office, they all seem to find way to manipulate they system for their own personal gain while gaming the public, who has to foot the bill for all of their petty antics.

Gregg said...

Speaking for Hart, I am naturally disappointed and frustrated over the decision by this Board. We continue to look for ways to logically understand their decision, one which leaves the taxpayers to with an unneccesary burden of millions of dollars and a yet to be certified system.

Hart is indeed a classy company and I'm very proud of that fact. We treasure the reputation for integrity the Company maintains, and we'll pass on business before endangering our rep with political games. We will however continue to pursue an explanation in Cuyahoga County, if for no other reason than to be able to explain the decision to our employees and our investors.

Thank you for asking all the right questions.

Gregg Burt
President and CEO
Hart InterCivic