Glitches Hit Sequoia Systems In Denver And Across Country by Jeff Smith

Rocky Mountain News

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.


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November 18, 2006 — Denver' s voting machine provider, Sequoia Voting Systems, has become controversial for problems with elections around the country and for its acquisition last year by a company controlled by a Venezuelan national.

In Denver, a panel of business and community leaders is analyzing the Election Day chaos that included delays in electronically verifying registered voters. Sequoia supplied custom software for the process but said the Denver Election Commission was responsible for setting up the system.

Cook County, Ill., which also uses Sequoia equipment, is putting together a panel to examine delays in transmitting results from polling stations. Officials there ended up hand-delivering many of the results to election headquarters.

While early news reports blamed Sequoia, "at this point we' re not speculating," said Cook County spokeswoman Kelley Quinn.

In Ocean County, N.J., votes from a Sequoia machine were counted twice, leading an assistant attorney general to ask a judge for permission to open all voting machines to recheck results. Additional discrepancies haven't been found and Sequoia preliminarily has determined a software error was to blame.

Sequoia, which has systems in 16 states and Washington, D.C., saw other scattered problems with its equipment during this year' s elections. But overall, "Sequoia' s voting equipment performed very well across the country," said Sequoia spokeswoman Michelle Shafer. [Compare Michelle Shafer's statements with lies by Diebold's David Bear.]

Problems with electronic voting systems are common among the few companies in the business. Sequoia rival Diebold frequently has been in the headlines for equipment glitches and business issues.

And this election season, the most talked about possible snafu occurred in Sarasota, Florida, which is served by the vendor Election Systems & Software (ES&S). A large number of votes there were lost in a key congressional race, and there is no paper backup.

"They' re all equally bad; some make the headlines, some don't," said Bruce Schneier, founder and chief technology officer for Counterpane Internet Security Inc. in California and an outspoken critic of electronic voting systems.

Sequoia has been in the election business for more than a century, dating back to the 1890s when it developed what it says were the country's first lever-based voting machines.

Last year, Sequoia was purchased by Smartmatic Corp., a 6-year-old networking and software company owned primarily by Antonio Mugica, a dual Spanish-Venezuelan national.

Smartmatic' s connection to Venezuela gave rise to rumors of possible control by Hugo Chavez, Venezuela' s left-wing president.

Last May, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, R-N.Y., called for a review of the acquisition, and the Treasury Department later confirmed it had contacted Smartmatic for information.

Since then, there have been reports that a formal probe is under way by the Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Sequoia responded to the Venezuela-related rumors by issuing a press release in May saying it is a "U.S. company dedicated to providing Americans accurate, reliable and fair voting systems."

In late October, Smartmatic said it had "voluntarily" filed a notice to allow the U.S. government to review its acquisition of Sequoia.

"No foreign government or entity — including Venezuela — has ever held an ownership stake in Smartmatic," Mugica said in the October statement, adding that the company wanted the acquisition to be reviewed "to put to rest the baseless but persistent rumors about our ownership."

Treasury Department spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin and Shafer both said this week the review is still under way. [At the end of 2006 it is reported that Smartmatic has agreed to sell off Sequoia Voting Systems, hopefully to American citizens.]]

The speculation about Smartmatic also was fueled by the fact that it was part of a consortium selected to automate Venezuelan elections, including the legislative elections in 2005. Opposition members of Venezuela' s electoral commission claimed they were excluded from the bidding process and decision.

Last year' s legislative elections in Venezuela were plagued by problems, including poll officials replaced by political party agents, the presence of armed forces personnel at polling stations, and widespread confusion among voters about how to use the automated voting machines, according to a report by the European Union election observation mission.

But EU observers generally concluded that the voting machines themselves seemed to be reliable.

There' s no shortage of election conspiracy theories, and Internet blogs have been intrigued over the years with the relationship between Sequoia and Mike Frontera, Denver' s former election commission executive director.

Frontera was hired by Sequoia in 1998, two years after Denver agreed to purchase $6.6 million of equipment from the company.

Denver election officials at the time defended Frontera, saying that only the three election commissioners are involved in the purchasing decisions.

Frontera added Friday that he was public information officer at the time of the purchase, and a year later became executive director overseeing the implementation of the Sequoia system.

He said he had applied for a job at U S West in 1998, using Sequoia as a reference, and that Sequoia then offered him a job when they realized he was looking.

Frontera made headlines again in 2004, when he and another Sequoia employee were spotted in the vote-counting room in Riverside County, California, during a spring election. Early results in a county supervisor race indicated the likelihood of a runoff, but by the end of the counting, one of the candidates had narrowly won a majority of the votes.

Frontera said the contract called for Sequoia employees to support the system, and that the two were helping upload voting results to the California Secretary of State' s Office.

"We could have been helping out with a problem with our system," Frontera said. "It was all in public view. That' s why people looking through the glass saw we were there."

He characterized the Internet blog reports as "lingering and annoying," adding that "it' s a little scary that someone can Google you" and this is what they'll find.


Sequoia Voting Systems


History: Company roots trace back to 1892 in Jamestown, N.Y., with the founding of the AVM Co., which developed the lever voting machine.

Headquarters: Oakland, Calif. Denver office has roughly 35 employees or contractors.

Ownership: Bought by Smartmatic Corp. in 2005, a device networking and software company owned primarily by Antonio Mugica, a Spanish-Venezuelan national.

Revenues: Sequoia is privately held. Revenues have been estimated at between $12 million and $50 million annually.

Employees: 140

Markets: Electronic voting machines in 16 states and Washington, D.C.


Nationwide voting problems


Alameda County, California: Ballot jams forced election officials to replace 25 optical scanners. Sequoia blamed the problem on a ragged-edged ballot printed by a contractor hired by the county.

Cook County, Illinois: Transmission of results from polling sites were delayed, so results from roughly half the 2,400 precincts were hand-delivered instead. An independent panel will examine the problem.

Isle of Wight County, Virginia: A frozen voting machine prevented election officials from transmitting results to a state database.

Ocean County, New Jersey: Votes from one machine were counted twice. Sequoia has acknowledged a software reporting error.

York County, Pennsylvania: Eight of 650 machines were replaced because of loose wiring.Source: News Reports, Sequoia



| EJF Home | Where To Find Help | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter |


| Vote Fraud and Election Issues Book | Table of Contents | Site Map | Index |


| Chapter 3 — Direct Recording Electronic Voting |

| Next — Clerks Cast Doubt On New Election Machines In New Jersey by Paul Brubaker |

| Back — The Diebold Bombshell by David Dill, Doug Jones, and Barbara Simons |


Added July 26, 2006

Last updated 6/14/09