Florida attorney general questions e-voting vendors' decision to shun county

Subpoenas have been issued to Diebold, others for sales-related docs

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist wants to know why three of the leading vendors of electronic voting machines have refused to do business with the controversial elections supervisor of Leon County.

Crist announced last Wednesday that his office had issued subpoenas to the three companies certified to sell e-voting machines in Florida. Crist alleges that Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S), Diebold Election Systems Inc. and Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. won’t do business with Leon County, a refusal that indirectly caused the county to be in violation of both Florida and federal election laws.

Crist wants to know if the trio, which has sold voting machines to every Florida county for the past three years, privately reached an agreement to withhold their gear from Leon County. That’s what prompted Crist to seek copies of documents related to the sales of e-voting machines in Florida since 2003.

Both the Civil Rights Division and the Antitrust Division of Crist’s office are taking part in the probe, which began in February. “It is critical for our democratic process to work efficiently and effectively, but of most importance, fairly,” said Crist in a statement. “These subpoenas are to ensure that the rights of our voters with disabilities, as well as all Florida voters, are secured.”

The relationship between Leon County Election Supervisor Ion Sancho and voting-machine vendor Diebold has been rocky in recent months. Sancho has been an outspoken critic of touch-screen voting systems and even sponsored multiple hacks of the county’s own optical scan AccuVote devices. The issue came to a head in December, when the Leon County Commission -- at Sancho’s urging -- voted to replace its Diebold AccuVote optical scan gear (see ”Diebold machines voted out by Florida county”).

Sancho cited concerns about the security of the systems along with the need to adhere to federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and Florida election laws. HAVA dictates that every voting precinct have a touch-screen or specially-equipped optical scan device to allow the blind and other handicapped citizens to vote unaided.

Sancho later reached an informal agreement to buy $1.8 million in equipment from ES&S, but that deal fell through, leaving the county in violation of HAVA (see ”ES&S Backs Out of $1.8M E-voting Deal“). Because the county failed to have HAVA-required equipment in place in time, it was ordered to repay a half-million-dollar grant that had been earmarked for the machines ”Florida county loses $564,000 federal elections grant”).

Sancho said that the three vendors refused to sell to him “because they could. The laws of Florida offer no protection to elections officials. There’s no requirement that companies sell to the counties, which I think is a serious oversight in our laws. And quite frankly, the voting machine vendors have driven the [creation and passage of the] HAVA legislation from the beginning.”

The vendors offered varying responses to Crist’s subpoenas. Diebold said it is reviewing the issue and declined to comment on the subpoenas for now. However, a spokesman said that Diebold did not refuse to sell equipment to Leon County; instead, the relationship was terminated by Sancho. “Mr. Sancho notified us that he would prefer to work with another vendor,” the spokesman said. “We have and will continue to respond to the County Board of Elections and the Secretary of State’s office.”

ES&S also said it is reviewing the questions and document requests. While declining to offer more detailed comments, a spokesman said: “After evaluating all of the information available to us, we reluctantly determined that we could not expect to have an effective partnership with [Leon] county.”

A spokeswoman for Sequoia said her company regards any allegations of wrongdoing as without merit and stands ready to fully cooperate with any government investigation.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon