Election Official Thwarts Recount Using Phony Vote Totals
A “mistake” made in the office of a seriously-compromised Supervisor of Election in Pinellas County whose husband is a top executive of the country’s largest election services company has almost unnoticed spiked the best hope for a election recount in Florida that might have thrown a spotlight on the dark corners of the Florida election process concealing widespread systemic and system-wide vote fraud.
The office of Supervisor of Elections in Pinellas County, Deborah Clark, provided inflated totals on the YES side of the gambling initiative which were then used by state officials in the official state tally of the hotly-contested gambling initiative known as Amendment 4.
The initiative would allow casino slot machine gambling in South Florida, an outcome devoutly to be wished by owners of the spanking new $700 million Hard Rock Café Casino in Hollywood, Florida, a facility all dressed up but with currently nowhere to go.
Pinellas County voters defeated the gambling initiative by more than 17,000 votes. But the official state record says the exact opposite, the result of a “mistake” by the office of Pinellas Elections Supervisor which would have gone unnoticed, said local reports, had it not been caught by outside observers.
Advantage Hard Rock
A recount of Florida’s votes on the state gambling initiative offered an opportunity to correlate what was found with what are so far just “theories” of how the Presidential election in Florida might have been stolen.
Deborah Clark provided an extra 34,000 votes on the YES side of the gambling initiative, sufficient to legally preclude what would have otherwise been a mandated recount.
Ms. Clark’s performance had been questioned in press accounts before, most recently after the 2002 primary contest, when newspaper headlines read “Clark's election flubs draw fire.”
Strangely, no one can said to have benefited more from the inadvertent mistake than Clark’s own husband. As a longtime top executive with E S & S, the company which counts more than half the U.S. vote, Richard Clark probably had more to lose from a recount than almost anyone alive…
Should rumored anomalies surface in the recount, the fortunes of any elections firms involved would no doubt suffer.
“Computer Glitches” Beat John Kerry”
A recount of the gambling initiative, known as Amendment 4, election experts said, would have offered clues as to how and why 90,000 extra YES votes for gambling were recorded in Broward County, for example.
This number is almost equal to the “extra” votes for President Bush cast in Broward County which researchers say were inexplicable except through manipulated electronic vote tabulation—which were counted in the same county’s tally.
Recording phony vote totals seemed a system wide and systemic problem, and only AFTER being discovered by an outside observer were the wrong totals corrected. For example, Vincent Profaci, an attorney near Orlando went to bed with Kerry way ahead in his home county of Orange.
When he woke up he discovered to his horror that Kerry had fallen inexplicably behind.
Officials excused the 34,000-vote mistake as a computer glitch.
In fact, almost every time vote fraud was discovered by election observers, it was blandly explained away as nothing but a “computer or software glitch.”
Newsflash: “COMPUTER GLITCHES” beat John Kerrey in Florida.
Let’s take a closer look at things like this can happen. Lets take a look at what happened in Pinellas County.
"How To Fix An Election for Dummies"
Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Deborah Clark election supervisor in Pinellas County, Florida, in May of 2000.
Trouble began almost immediately. Some of it was even funny…
For example, in the Aug. 31 2002 primary, the population of an entire small town— 12,498 voters— appeared at the polls in Hillsborough County and apparently decided not to vote in the race for state attorney.
The town cast votes in all the other contests, but not in the race for state attorney. Had there been a town-wide secret pact?
To this day no one is sure why those voters didn't vote, or if they did, what might have happened to their votes. They are “ghost votes,” floating in the ether. The local papers labeled it “A Voting Mystery.”
More seriously, while Deborah Clark had worked as a top official in the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office, her husband Richard Clark’s employer Elections Systems & Software, was awarded more than $400,000 in business with the office, and was up for a lucrative contract worth as much as $15-million to sell new voting machines to Pinellas County.
Clark, who hadn’t disclosed the connection, hotly denied a conflict of interest. “Neither my husband nor I would ever do anything that would compromise the integrity of the elections office, or our own personal integrity," she said.
Clark's failure to disclose that her husband was working for a voting machine company bidding for Pinellas' business, coupled with the last-minute revelation that the executive who would have managed Pinellas' elections for Sequoia Voting Systems, the company the county chose, was under indictment in Louisiana, left a bit of a sour taste.
Elections in Pinellas County have been occasions for holding your breath for several election cycles.
"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.”
“We’re from 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 presidential election.
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 simpler system.
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 voting machines.
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 machines."
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.
"A Mechanic 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 Business Times.
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 firms.
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 glitch, apparently.
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 voters.
"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 favors rendered.
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 fraud?
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 campaign.
A year-long investigation into the voting process ensued, which uncovered certain financial irregularities.
Today Woody Jenkins is out of politics.
The system rolls on…