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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another "Odd 'series' of events" with the Bd. of Voting Machine Examiners - this time with ES&S

"...does it seem odd to you too, that while the current 3 selectees for Brunner's Board of Voting Machine Examiners may be qualified for their current election official position, that people who are not independent from the SoS office or partisan alignments, and especially who don't hold firm qualifications and expertise in electronic election technology, are the people who are certifying our equipment for Ohio? "

Tomorrow will see
another meeting of the Jennifer Brunner's Board of Voting Machine Examiners.

Secretary Brunner Calls Meeting of the Board of Voting Machine Examiners


COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Board of Voting Machine Examiners will meet on Friday, July 11 at 2 p.m. in the 15th floor conference room of the Continental Plaza, 180 E. Broad St. in Columbus.

The board will be considering the following issue: whether certain modifications made to the hardware on E S & S’s AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal Model A200 are enhancements or significant adjustments to the certified voting equipment.

This meeting is open to the public.

The board is composed of the following members: Inajo Davis Chappell, a member of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections; Dale Fellows, a member of the Lake County Board of Elections, and David R. Moots, a member of the Union County Board of Elections.


Media Contacts:
Jeff Ortega, Assistant Director of Communications, Media, 614-466-0473
Kevin Kidder, Media Relations Coordinator, 614-995-2168

So what is so "odd" about that? Well, let's see - and going from most recent "Oddities" first:

• "Odd" #1. - Today, when I called the Cuyahoga Commissioners to find out about ES&S contract - (which final negotiation was left to them, when the CCBOE could not come to financial and performance terms with ES&S after days and hours, but still voted on 6/20/08 to adopt ES&S's $4-5M higher bid over Hart's completed, more popular terms) I was told that they just approved it at this morning's Commissioners meeting.

Odd that the vote on the ES&S contract was not on the Commissioners published agenda for today, so interested parties - from the public too - could know to attend. Since the CCBOE decision to adopt ES&S happened on 6/20/08, and the lawyers had been working on contract terms for weeks before that, this was hardly an "emergency" issue that needed to be "walked on" with no public notice.

• "Odd" #2 -I won't yet know how "odd or "non-odd" the actual terms of contract are, until I see it, like:

  • how inflated costs may or may not be (For instance, are taxpayers still paying $1500/day/ea. for ES&S people, (upon whom I was told no background checks/resumes were provided for the March election,) to sit around, run our equipment, not convey knowledge independence to CCBOE managers, and maybe to even run OUR "acceptance testing" of their equipment....) ;
  • to what the $4-5M higher bid adopted by the CCBOE can be attributed;
  • how much is guaranteed in performance and warranties (or how little as with Diebold) and for what cost;
  • and ultimately, how much control of Cuyahoga citizens' election results is now being quietly handed over to ES&S (and friends at many levels) - from ballot design and "definition files" to running the tabulator and scanners, - all areas holding the potential for easily and undetectably changing Cuyahoga's vote results/creating them as some may desire.
• "Odd" #3 - Just as it was "odd" that SoS Brunner called a meeting of the Board of Voting Machine Examiners for July 3 about Hart InterCivic equipment being considered by the CCBOE- known about since early 2008, but with the "examiners" meeting, but for AFTER the CCBOE decision, this meeting of her "examiners" may be even "Odder."
The Commissioners sealed the almost $5M higher-than-Hart deal with ES&S, (today, in a seeming "emergency") - and THEN the "examiners" are to decide on whether or not some of the ES&S equipment in that contract should be considered "certified" in OH (tomorrow, again in some sort of meeting, without technology experts,) in Columbus??
Now THAT'S "Odd"!

• "Odd" #4 -
And to make #3 even "odder" - what Brunner's Board of Voting Machine Examiners will be considering - seems to involve the same issue that caused CA SoS Bowen to file a $15M lawsuit against ES&S last August, when it was found that the company seemingly had been trying to pass off their AutoMark 200's ( - then not yet certified by federal ITA's (certifying labs) and thus, were also not certified by the state of California - ) as their already-inspected/certified Automark 100 model,
  • either by "not mentioning" (one of a few "oversights" they claimed) that the Automark 200's were not the certified "100 Model,"
  • or as some allege, by concertedly masking the truth, even by putting the wrong sticker on their machines.
The meeting today (without tech experts) in Columbus is to determine if the these ballot marking devices for ADA compliance, the AutoMarks (that started out in $8-9K range each, and of which Cuyahoga plans to purchase approximately 600,) and which seemingly are the AutoMark Model 200's - apparently to determine if these marking devices can be considered certified in Ohio, just as their predecessors were:
"whether certain modifications made to the hardware on E S & S’s AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal Model A200 are enhancements or significant adjustments to the certified voting equipment."

Yes, oddly, it seems that today the Commissioners may have signed for uncertified equipment.
Did they already know, that if anyone would deem to make a fuss - seemingly not the SoS - they'd be "covered" tomorrow?
I will be getting a tape of the deliberation to find if that "little glitch" was even mentioned - though there is probably "an out" clause in the contract.

The PD's coverage of today's Commissioners passage of the contract with a 2-1 vote, mentioned nothing of that little fact being spoken about. But using, (thus one might assume purchasing for use) uncertified equipment goes against state laws.

• "Odd" #5 - It also seems "odd" that the Board of Voting Machine Examiners would be taking up a question
(without tech experts) so widely discussed last year.
Here's what Wired Magazine said in their 8/21/07 article, "ES&S to be Rebuked, Fined and Possibly Banned in CA?" By Kim Zetter
(Where the article refers to looking at pictures, it's definitely worth going to the original post to see if you think the differences look like "enhancements" or "significant adjustments" that need checking.

"California announced today that it plans to hold an administrative hearing on September 20th to discuss the fate of Election Systems & Software for violating state election codes. ES&S, the top voting machine company in the country, is being accused of selling at least five CA counties a version of its AutoMark ballot marking system that hadn't yet been tested or certified for use in the state or the country.
ES&S apparently sold at least about 1,000 uncertified machines to San Francisco, Marin, Colusa, Solano and Merced counties. (The number of uncertified machines delivered to California was supplied by ES&S to the state; CA officials have yet to conduct their own inventory to determine if more machines are involved.)
Per CA law, ES&S could be fined $10,000 per uncertified voting system unit (or $9.72 million) and be required to give a complete refund to counties of all money spent on the machines -- the latter would amount to about $5 million.
Additionally, ES&S could be barred from doing any business in the state for between 1 and 3 years, which would impact more than just the five counties mentioned -- potentially affecting more than 14 counties that use ES&S machines, including Los Angeles County.
The issue raises questions about how many other uncertified AutoMarks the company may have sold to other states.
ES&S did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
The AutoMark A100 was certified for use in California in August 2005. However, in 2006, ES&S, by its own admission, sold about 1,000 units of its subsequent AutoMark model -- the A200 version -- to five CA counties months before the system passed federal qualification testing in August 2006. Voting machines generally undergo two stages of testing and certification, first by independent testing labs overseen by the federal government and then by the states themselves. But according to secretary of state spokeswoman Nicole Winger ES&S still has not submitted the A200 system to the state to examine and certify.
Winger also says that the A200 machines had stickers on them (see photo below) that identified them as having passed federal qualification testing, when they hadn't yet passed that testing. Winger says that the qualification stickers that were placed on the A200 machines were the stickers that are supposed to apply only to A100 machines. Winger says it's possible that the stickers were applied in error. But if ES&S deliberately placed the stickers on the machines it could suggest a deliberate attempt on the part of the company to deceive California election officials.
"We are in the early stages of learning about the facts," Winger told me. "We don't know who would have applied the A100 stickers to uncertified equipment."
Winger said the differences between the A100 and A200 systems are significant and easily identified just through visual inspection (see the photos above at right). The size of the motherboard and the types of wiring inside the machines are just two examples of the differences.
"Those are the first things on visual inspection that even a computer novice would notice," Winger says.
ES&S is not the first voting machine company to have sold uncertified equipment in CA. In 2003, the state discovered that Diebold Election Systems had installed uncertified software in machines in 17 counties. (UPDATE: Joseph Hall at UC Berkeley reminds me that Diebold wasn't the only company that had uncertified software running in CA counties in 2003. A subsequent review of all election software in the state at that time found that eight counties were using versions of ES&S software that had not been federally qualified or state certified. Other counties were also found to be using uncertified software made by vendors other than ES&S and Diebold.)
Stephen Weir, the clerk for Contra Costa County, which has 762 AutoMark units as part of a $14 million contract with ES&S, supports Bowen's decision to punish ES&S for violating state laws -- although his county isn't among those that received uncertified equipment.
"If a vendor is using equipment in California that is not certified, they need to get busted," he told me. "If in fact (Bowen has) found equipment that was not ceritifed, that's a violation of not just the trust that a vendor has with election officials and the state, that's a violation of law."
The AutoMark is a ballot marking device that is a hybrid between a touch-screen machine and an optical-scan unit. Voters insert a full-size paper ballot into the system and make their selections on a touch-screen. The machine marks their selections on the ballot before returning the ballot to voters. The ballot is then passed through an optical scanner and tabulated. The machine has been touted as an answer to both the accessibility issues involving disabled voters and the verification issues around paperless touch-screen machines since the machines include audio for blind voters and use a full-size paper ballot that voters can verify before submitting it to be scanned and tabulated.
ES&S has been the focus of much attention in recent months. Last week Dan Rather Reports disclosed that the company was assembling its touchscreen machines in a sweatshop factory in Manila, the Philippines. The company's touch-screen machines are also at the core of a disputed election in Sarasota, Florida."

"Odds"#6- 9 - And there remain the "oddities" about the Board of Voting Machine Examiners itself:

• "Odd #6 -
In this 6/29 post on this site, you'll see the question asked if this Board's composition should be following the recently passed Sub. HB350 - including one more member, (4 total) with two of the members chosen by members of the OH legislature of the opposite party than the SoS (not all chosen by the SoS.) The question remains.

But maybe not yet? - Until the Legislature returns from their summer recess and can pick their choices? -
though this is the second meeting called for this Board of Voting Machine Examiners this month - an unusually high frequency (& "oddly" timed.)

After the June 29th post on this site, referred to above, an election integrity activist wrote me (without permission to post her message, so I didn't) saying that it seemed "too soon" for Sub HB350 to have gone into effect, and further, that it didn't have the Governor's signature yet.
I point out again that I believe that passed legislation can go into effect without the Governor's signature, and the 10-day waiting time for that on this Bill ended on 6/17/08.

Also re: SubHB350's adoption, it seems from Secretary Brunner's own report on the March election, ( Press Releases/2008-06-11.aspx) that she acknowledges that other provisions of that law are already in effect:
"Newly adopted legislation supported by the secretary of state would allow absentee ballots absentee ballots received within 10 days after the election that bear a postmark prior to Election Day to be counted by the board of elections. Further instruction on this new law's implementation will be provided on this new law’s implementation will be provided to boards of elections via advisory and/or directive prior to the general election. "
Why not this provision of the Bill, about the Board of Voting machine Examiners? It is making for a busy summer for them.

• "Odd" #7 - And re: the busy Board of Voting Machine Examiners summer,
since taxpayers are paying each of the three current members $300 per meeting, (minimum $900 per gathering;) and the two issues they're dealing with have been known for months, and we're not yet sure which of them has the tech expertise to assess and certify equipment, might it not seem less odd to not only time these meetings BEFORE counties make critical purchase decisions, but also to combine issues, and deal with more than one at a time? (Hey besides the minimum $1800 we're spending for the two July gatherings, look at the just the gas they'd save.)

• "Odd"#8 - And is it not "odd", that on July 10 we still don't have any minutes of what happened at our $900, July 3, BoVMEx meeting online? That we, who are not paid for the day and travel expenses to Columbus, still don't easily know exactly what happened/what was decided about the Hart InterCivic card readers?

I understand from someone who IS able to get information from the SoS office, that those card readers were "approved" at that meeting and thus, the already certified Hart voting equipment is good to go in OH.

Also to clear up another item that the same election integrity activist sent, this was NOT a question about Hart's memory cards used to gather votes.
It was seemingly a question (or non-question) about their card readers, as the SoS press release states.
In a call to Hart on July 2, a spokesperson explained to me that their changed card reader had already been federally certified; that the Secretary of State had been notified, per the law, early in '08, if not late in '07; that Hamilton County (the only OH county using Hart) had also been much earlier notified, as required by law; that, (I would have to assume with the Secretary of State's knowledge,) Hart even supplied Hamilton with a few of these new card readers to use for their March 4 election; and that because of all the prior compliances/acceptances, Hart was only planning to attend the July 3 meeting by phone. Altogether, the previous series of events seems to possibly make the 7/3 BofVMEx meeting rather superfluous. How "odd"!

• "Odd"#9 - And finally here, as pointed out a few times above - does it seem odd to you too, that while the current 3 selectees for Brunner's Board of Voting Machine Examiners may be qualified for their current election official position, that people who are not independent from the SoS office or partisan alignments, and especially who don't hold firm qualifications and expertise in electronic election technology, are the people who are certifying our equipment for Ohio? The same equipment that independent scientists have found can be easily manipulated by those who do know, to create desired election results - whether touchscreens or paper ballots.

So what's next? I'll post here the ES&S contract when I receive it - and maybe portions of the Commissioners' meeting tape.

But just as my momma used to say, "When things look "odd", they usually aren't. You're just not asking the right questions, or focusing on the right issues."

What questions do you think need to be asked? Of whom?

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