"A reputation for corruption to be proud of."
So when, on the day of the 2004
Presidential election, numerous anecdotes from voters in Pinellas County
reported problems like voting for Kerry and having the vote register for Bush,
(see “pressing Bernacker and getting Giambelluca” described in a previous story)
it did not come as a tremendous shock.
Roberta Harvey, 57, of
Clearwater, Fla., said she had tried at least a half dozen times to select
Kerry-Edwards when she voted Tuesday at Northwood Presbyterian Church, said an
Associated Press report .
“After 10 minutes trying to
change her selection, the Pinellas County resident said she called a poll worker
and got a wet-wipe napkin to clean the touch screen as well as a pencil so she
could use its eraser-end instead of her finger. Harvey said it took about 10
attempts to select Kerry before and a summary screen confirmed her intended
selection,” said the account.
“Election officials in
several Florida counties where voters complained about such problems did not
return calls Tuesday night,” reported the Associated Press on Nov. 4. And
things haven’t changed since.
A spokeswoman for the
company that makes the touch-screen machines used in Pinellas, Palm Beach and
two other Florida counties, Alfie Charles of Sequoia Voting Systems, said the
machines' monitors may need to be recalibrated periodically.
Sequoia is the second-largest
election services company, with roughly one-third of the voting machine market.
In 1999, the Justice Department filed federal charges against Sequoia alleging
that employees paid out more than $ 8 million in bribes.
Pinellas County purchased
voting equipment from Sequoia worth $14 million, even after discovering that
Phil Foster, a Sequoia executive, faced indictment in Louisiana for money
laundering and corruption.
The Tampa Tribune stated
“Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark's high praise of Sequoia
Voting Systems was instrumental in the company's landing a $14 million contract
with the county in 2001.”
the Government. We’re here to help.”
Fifteen Florida counties now
use touch-screen machines, including Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade. They
had scurried to buy the voting machines after the Legislature outlawed
punch-card balloting in the wake of the hanging chad controversy of the 2000
In December 2001, Broward
County chose a $17.2 million touch-screen system over a pencil-and-paper system
priced at no more than $5 million. Earlier that year, in May, Palm Beach County
agreed to pay $14 million for touch-screens, compared with $3 million for the
Why use electronic machines
at all? Blame the Federal Government’s Help America Vote Act, which authorized
$3.9 billion in federal spending to help states replace punch-card and lever
With a war and a soaring
deficit, why would they want to do that?
"I have always been concerned
about the undervote on electronic machines," said Rebecca Mercuri, a computer
expert at Harvard University who has written extensively about voting issues.
"We don't know what happens with the votes because there is no real audit of the
Ah. There’s the rub.
Not surprisingly, Supervisor
of Elections Deborah Clark wants to keep it that way…
Although she hadn’t shown
much concern over spending $14 million on the machines, she said that the $2
million expense of retrofitting Pinellas County's new touch screen voting
machines to generate a receipt for voters which would verify how their ballots
were cast was unnecessary.
The county's touch screen
system, built by Sequoia Voting Systems, was safe from tampering, she stated.
for Our Time"
Her assertions should be
tempered by the knowledge that while Clark worked as a top official in the
Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office, her husband's employer was awarded more
than $400,000 in business with the office.
Her husband, Richard Clark,
isn't involved in sales,” reported a sympathetic article in the St. Petersburg
Times. “He installs and fixes elections machines and says he has steered clear
of business in Florida.”
But it is exactly these
people, the ones who install and fix election machines, the so-called mechanics,
who have the opportunity and expertise to rig the vote. When an election gets
fixed, its almost always because mechanics got “to” the machines.
Yet the development, coming
after Clark's controversial handling of the presidential election in Pinellas,
raised some eyebrows this week. Some county commissioners say they weren't told
about her husband's connection to the company.
It wasn’t like bribing
election officials was something that never happened in Tampa…
Officers of Shoup Voting
Machine Co., a Sequoia predecessor, were indicted for allegedly bribing
politicians in Tampa, Florida back in 1971, according to the San Francisco
It’s a job with a little bit
of history… Even Clark's deputy administrator, Karen Butler, is a sister of
Sandra Mortham, Florida's former secretary of state and a lobbyist for ES&S
before the state Legislature.
Butler told reporters that
family ties won't matter.
Clark's husband, Richard
Clark, 59, is a nationally known expert in installing new voting systems.
An Insider at the Feast
He worked as a project
manager for ES&S for about five years, having joined the firm when it acquired
the company that previously employed him, Business Records Corp.
But Clark said he quit ES&S
just before his wife was named elections supervisor because he was worried that
his employment with the firm could appear as a conflict. But so far, Clark's new
company, Richard A. Clark Enterprises, works for just one company: ES&S.
The selection process in
Pinellas County became mired in ethical conflicts after county commissioners
learned in July 2001 that ES&S had “very” close ties to Deborah Clark.
Clark had been working in
Birmingham, Ala. as an independent contractor, after resigning from the company
"I have nothing whatsoever to do with that decision in Pinellas County. We don't
talk about anything like that," Clark told the St Pete Times. "We've been
married 17 years. I love her too much to put her in any position like that.”
The paper also quoted a sales
executive from Sequoia Pacific, John Krizka, who said he did not think ES&S got
any unfair advantage in Pinellas County.
Coming from a salesman for a
competitor, this seems convincing, except that the two companies have a
documented and tangled history of collusion between the two supposedly competing
Then too, consider that
Sequoia had paid $441,000 in a single year to Krizka, just for selling voting
machines to four Florida counties. Although this might be viewed as a bit
excessive, it wasn’t enough for Krizka, who sued, claiming Sequoia had stiffed
him on another $1.8 million.
And here’s where our story
begins to come full circle…
Birmingham, City of 'Mechanics'
Apparently no one noticed
that when Richard Clark went to Birmingham, another Birmingham election exec,
Phil Foster, was being indicted on felony bribery charges.
Phil Foster, a regional sales
vice president, was allegedly involved in a conspiracy and money-laundering
scheme that involved the sale of machine parts at inflated prices and kickbacks
of nearly $600,000.
Pinellas commissioners were
surprised when the St. Pete Times reported that Foster, a key employee for
front-runner Sequoia Voting Systems, had been indicted for the elections
kickback scheme in Louisiana.
“Sequoia was not involved,
nor was the company charged,” said the St Pete Times.
This isn’t strictly true. In
fact, it isn’t true at all…
Testimony in Federal Court in
Baton Rouge revealed that, in fact, Sequoia had engineered the complex scheme,
an action which provides yet another election irony.
Pinellas Commission Chairman
Calvin Harris told the Times he assumed the state had checked out the competing
companies while their machines were being certified.
Not so, said Clay Roberts,
director of the state's Division of Elections, who maintained that background
checks were a job for counties.
So while the state of Florida
was death on voting by convicted felons, there were no safeguards in place to
prevent the votes from being counted by felons.
Invisible Hand Wearing a Velvet Glove
The last time a big gambling
initiative was on the ballot in a Southern state, the election, in Louisiana,
produced visible evidence of state-wide vote fraud.
Gambling was the burning
issue on the ballot. Allegations of voting irregularity became commonplace.
We saw the invisible hand of
one of the second largest elections services company, Sequoia Pacific, in
action. Commissioner of Elections and former pro football player Jerry Fowler
got himself in big gambling trouble at Harrah's and paid off like a jimmied slot
machine for over a decade.
When big money’s at stake, we
learned, people looking to fix elections take off the velvet gloves.
So we paid close attention to
Amendment 4, the gambling initiative on the Florida ballot. And what we found
revealed that Pinellas County isn’t an isolated case..
Sequoia Voting Systems also
sold neighboring Hillsborough its $12-million package of touch screen voting
machines, had “a computer indexing system malfunction” in the Aug. 31 primary.
That’s a serious computer
Sequoia had never experienced
this particular glitch., which was a doozy. A total of 118,699 people turned out
to vote countywide. But somehow 125,891 voted in the race for state attorney.
That's 7,192 more votes than
"All Roads Lead to Vegas"
For why this happens there’s
no better example than… where else? Las Vegas…
Back in 1993-94, many
observers wondered why new Clark County elections chief Kathryn Ferguson would
commit to what turned out to be tens of millions of dollars in expenditures to
adopt Sequoia Pacific’s electronic voting machines.
So determined was Ms.
Ferguson to buy the Sequoia machines for Las Vegas that a former member of her
elections department team stated Ferguson resorted to the simple exigency of
having Sequoia Pacific’s representative send a list of bid specifications
designed so that Sequoia's machines were the only ones that could meet them.
This hardly seems sporting.
And its definitely illegal. Asked at the time, Ferguson said she had no concern
that her acceptance of a job at Sequoia Pacific might appear to be a payoff for
Today Kathryn Ferguson is E S
& S’s chief spokesman. She’s good to go.
So the real question isn’t
“Did vote fraud affect the Presidential race?”
The real question is, “How
could it not?”
Although many profess amazed
and seem confused about why Democrats have been such weenies about vote fraud,
this is a bipartisan scandal. And both parties know it.
When several dozen voters in
six states - particularly Democrats in Florida - said the wrong candidates
appeared on their touch-screen machine's checkout screen, the “Election
Protection Coalition” called the problem "troubling but anecdotal."
Why are they excusing felony
State Election Commissioner
Jerry Fowler, sentenced to five years in prison for taking hundreds of thousands
of dollars in kickbacks from voting machine contractors, could tell you…
Revelations of his
bribe-taking might never have emerged except for complaints from, of all things,
a Republican candidate, Woody Jenkins, narrowly beaten by
Democratic Senate candidate Mary Landrieu, in an especially bad-tempered
A year-long investigation
into the voting process ensued, which uncovered certain financial
Today Woody Jenkins is out of
The system rolls on…