MIAMI HERALD: Vote-machine makers profit from mistakes
- Posted on Tue, Aug. 07, 2007
Vote-machine makers profit from mistakesTouch-screen voting machines, the manufacturer promised us, offered an elegant solution to the election embarrassment of 2000. And Elections Systems & Software wrangled a $24.4 million contract out of Miami-Dade County, another $17.2 million out of Broward.
What both counties got for their money was more fiasco in 2002 and intermittent election chaos ever since. Elegant state-of-the-art touch-screen voting machines, it turned out, are unreliable vote eaters with gaping security vulnerabilities.
They're junk. Figuratively and literally -- after next year when they'll no longer be certified for use in Florida by anyone but the disabled. But they'll be expensive junk. Miami-Dade still owes $14 million, Broward $8.3 million on the useless gadgets. The St. Petersburg Times reports that six Florida counties are still on the hook for $33 million, paying off 25,000 machines that have depreciated faster than a hooker's endearment.
The market for used touch-screen voting machines -- not worth much anyway -- just got flooded. On Friday, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified touch-screen voting machines in 39 counties. She made the decision after an authorized computer security team hacked their way into Diebold and Sequoia systems.
More decertifications could be on the way. Bowen's office hasn't finished testing the ES&S machines used in 10 other California counties.
One can imagine the sort of horrible revenge our elected officials decided to wreak on the purveyors of this high-tech rubbish. Why . . . more contracts, of course.
ES&S was rewarded with a no-bid $6.2 million contract to supply optical-scan voting machinery to Broward County. Miami-Dade County commissioners balked at a similar recommendation from their county elections department and ordered competitive bids.
But only three companies are certified to supply voting machines in the state of Florida: ES&S, whose machines devoured 18,000 votes in a close congressional race in Sarastoa last fall; and the two companies just ousted in California, Sequoia and Diebold.
So the same vendors who talked Florida counties out of buying much cheaper optical-scan systems in 2001 in favor of costly touch-screen systems, are the only companies certified to fill the void now that their original systems have been tossed.
''That's the crazy thing,'' said Ion Sancho, the maverick elections supervisor from Leon County who first raised questions about election machine vulnerability in Florida two years ago.
Sancho brought in a computer expert to test his Diebold system. And his hacker hacked away. Hypothetical voters were altered without a trace. The state of Florida's reaction was to side with the vendor, disparage Sancho and threaten to sue him. Last month, a team from Florida State University validated Sancho's findings.
But remember, the Leon County machines were opti-scan -- not touch screen. And the California security team looking into that state's voting systems also noted the disconcerting vulnerabilities of opti-scan tabulation systems, though they at least provide a paper trail.
In Florida, the three vendors who sold us unreliable touch-screen machines now have the exclusive and lucrative right to ring us up another wormy voting system. There's no need of a recount to figure out who won out in this particular election fiasco.
Pamela Haengel, President
Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay
Co-Founder, Florida Voters Coalition
Office (727) 821-1116
Cell (727) 244-9064
Fax (727) 896-4132
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