Chicago Ballot Chaos
New Computer Vote Machines Malfunction, Unverifiable
By Christopher Bollyn
5 April 2006
COOK COUNTY, Illinois—Chicago’s use of a flawed computerized voting system operated by a privately held foreign company reveals how meaningless and absurd the “democratic” process in America has become. Having observed voting systems across Europe, from Serbia, Germany and Estonia to Holland and France, this reporter has noted that the most honest and transparent elections are also the most simple.
The more complicated methods of voting, such as the unverifiable computerized voting systems widely used across the United States, lack the most essential element of democratic elections—transparency.
The $50 million touch-screen and optical-scan voting system provided by Sequoia Voting Systems failed across Chicago and suburban Cook County during the March 21 Illinois primary. However, the leading corporate-controlled newspapers merely lamented the failures of the system without addressing its fundamental flaws or even reporting that the company running the election is foreign-owned.
The “high-tech” computerized voting system was “cumbersome” and “slow,” one mainstream Chicago newspaper reported. The machines failed across the county causing “plenty of frustration and confusion for voters,” the paper reported. The ballots and votes from more than 400 precincts were still uncounted two days after the election due to machine malfunctions and lost memory cartridges which contain the results.
Reports from other dailies noted that as of noon Wednesday, Chicago was missing memory cartridges from 252 polling stations while Cook County officials “couldn’t find” the results from 162 suburban precincts.
Election officials tried to assure the public that although nobody knew where all the ballots and computerized memory cartridges were, they were “most assuredly not lost.”
“I don’t trust that,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said. “This is Chicago. This is Cook County. We created vote fraud, vote scandal and stealing votes. We created that mechanism. It became an art form.”
“Ballot chaos” is how another large Chicago newspaper described the situation in which the votes from hundreds of precincts could not be found or counted on Election Night.
“We have accounted for the votes,” Langdon Neal, city election chairman told the publication. “What we haven’t been able to do is count them.”
In one precinct on the Near South Side, for example, the Sequoia optical scanner failed to register anything but Republican ballots. Although “election officials” tried to repair the machine four times, by the end of the day it had failed to register a single Democratic ballot in a precinct in which some 86 percent of the voters are Democrats.
When this reporter went to vote, the touch-screen machine went completely dead as the voter in front of me pressed the button to print. When the poll workers were asked if other voters had had similar problems with the equipment they said it had happened all day and showed me an unplugged machine that had broken down earlier.
When the polls closed at 7 p.m., I was at the Cook County Clerk’s office to see how the votes were tallied.
Citizens in Chicago, as in most American cities, are, however, forbidden from viewing or participating in the any aspect of the vote-counting process.
The so-called counting of the votes is managed by some two dozen employees of Sequoia Voting Systems, a privately held foreign company. These employees, many of whom are not even U.S. citizens, have “full access” to the “back room area,” a sealed-off section of the 5th floor of the county clerk’s office which is called the “tally area.”
In Chicago, the person in charge of the tallying of the votes was a British employee of Sequoia named David Allen from London. Allen, who ran the “Sequoia War Room” in an office next to that of Cook County Clerk David Orr, oversaw the “tally room” team, which included a dozen Venezuelan employees, who operated the hidden computer equipment that counts the votes.
As I have reported before, there are wire services such as the Associated Press, who could be seen having direct connections leading from their computers to the hidden mainframe computer of the Sequoia tallying system located behind the wall on the 5th floor of the clerk’s office.
Senior executives from Sequoia Voting Systems and from its partner company, Smartmatic, such as company president Jack A. Blaine and Roger Alejandro Piñate Martinez, vice president of special operations, also had “full access” to the tally area.
Sequoia, which was previously held by the British-based firm De La Rue PLC, a company, which produces bank notes, travelers checks and cash handling equipment, was merged or combined with Smartmatic in March 2005.
Smartmatic, which has a U.S.-based office in Boca Raton, Fla., is headed by three young Venezuelans along with Blaine, a former vice president with Unisys. A dozen Venezuelans could be seen managing the most sensitive aspects of the recent election in Chicago.
Smartmatic, the parent company of Sequoia Voting Systems, obtained the company for a “ridiculously low amount of money,” Charles D. Brady, an analyst with Hibernia Southcoast Capital Inc., said at the time of the merger.
While De La Rue purchased 85 percent of Sequoia in 2002 for $35 million, it reportedly sold the growing global company for only $16 million in 2005. Tracey Graham, then president of Sequoia, said more than 30 organizations had expressed interest in buying her company, yet no names of other bidders were given citing “confidentiality agreements.”
The chief officers of Sequoia-Smartmatic are two 32-year old Venezuelans from Caracas, Antonio Mugica and Alfredo Anzola. Anzola also works as a Venezuela-based lawyer brokering international oil deals with the Cleveland law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey.
“With the combination of Sequoia and Smartmatic, both proven innovators with accomplished track records in either the U.S. or abroad, we are creating the first truly global leader in providing voter-verified electronic voting systems,” Blaine said in March 2005 when the merger was announced.
There is, however, nothing verifiable about the Sequoia voting system used in Cook County. The voter has no way of knowing if his vote has been counted or how it was counted.
The absolute lack of transparency in U.S. voting systems yields unverifiable election results, which can only be accepted on faith. In Chicago voters are asked to trust the results produced by malfunctioning machines operated by a privately owned foreign company.
Asked about the nature of the foreign company that runs elections in Cook County, Scott Burnham, spokesman for Cook County Clerk Orr simply said, “Ask Sequoia” and hung up the phone. Asked about the ownership of the privately held company, Allen, who supervised the tally, refused to answer and handed the phone to Michelle Shafer, the company’s vice president and spokesperson.
Pressed about Allen’s citizenship, Shafer finally admitted that the Sequoia employee who oversaw the tally was, indeed, a British citizen who had been assisted by a team of Venezuelans.
Dimas Ulacio, one of the Venezuelan technicians who worked in the tally area spoke with me. “Who really owns Sequoia?” I aksed Ulacio. “Is Sequoia-Smartmatic truly a Venezuelan company or is it a British-owned company masquerading as a Venezuelan company?”
Ulacio laughed but refused to answer.
While a high percentage of the precinct results—about 90 percent—are usually reported within one hour of the polls closing, the Sequoia system failed to produce any results for nearly two hours. Only 44 percent of the precinct results had been reported four hours after the polls closed.
The widespread failures of the Sequoia voting system in the Cook County election, Shafer said, made for a “very typical Election Day in a jurisdiction where they are changing voting technology.” Rather than blame the machines, Shafer blamed human error.