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ES&S Reneges On Deal Days Before HAVA Deadline

ES&S Reneges On Leon County Deal 2 Days Before HAVA Deadline

After pursuing Leon County for a full year, sending a contract, and as the final test conducting a Leon County election on its equipment, two ES&S executives shook hands on a $1.8 million deal with Leon County Election Supervisor Ion Sancho. Right before the HAVA deadine though, Election Systems & Software (ES&S) CEO Aldo Tesi abruptly aborted the Leon County contract.

Leon County's Ion Sancho shook up the voting industry in December when he authorized a security test which proved the Diebold system can be hacked. In short order, Volusia County (FL) dumped Diebold, hastily signing an agreement to purchase ES&S; St. Louis County (MO) dropped its Diebold contract, the state of California refused to certify Diebold (sending its machines back to federal testing labs) and the state of Pennsylvania decertified the Diebold optical scan system. California and Pennsylvania acted on the advice of their own independent voting system examiners, who confirmed problems with the code exploited by Finnish computer expert Harri Hursti to hack the system in Leon County.


Privatization of the voting industry puts election officials in a tough spot. Florida has authorized only three vendors to sell voting equipment (ES&S, Sequoia and Diebold). However, because the vendors are private corporations, they can choose to sell to whomever they want, refusing customers at will.

Sequoia Voting Systems decided not to sell to customers in Ohio, saying the number of sales available was not enough to make a profit. Hart Intercivic chose not to sell to customers in North Carolina, forcing elections officials there to buy only from ES&S.

ES&S decided to sell its machines to Volusia County, a new customer about the same size as Leon County, while denying its machines to Leon County. Nothing prevents a vendor from refusing to sell to counties deemed too small to turn a profit, or to jurisdictions they simply don't like.

The federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) denies funds to counties that don't purchase voting machines, states dictate which vendors are approved, and vendors dictate to whom they will sell.


"It looks like I've got two bad actors to deal with [ES&S and Diebold], and neither one of them is acting responsibly in my opinion. What do I do to serve the best interests of the citizens of Leon County?" says Sancho. "HAVA has forced us to purchase systems that in my opinion are not appropriate for citizens to be voting on, but as Dickens says, 'The law is an ass.'"


Sancho's problems with Diebold accelerated after he allowed security tests, revealing a problem with the GEMS central tabulator and the optical scan memory card design. Dr. Herbert Thompson demonstrated on Feb. 14 and May 2 last year that he was able to gain control of the "mother ship" – the central tabulator that counts votes from all the precinct machines. Finnish expert Harri Hursti demonstrated on May 26 that he was able to alter results tapes using a rigged memory card, and on Dec. 13, rigged an entire mock election from start to finish using a memory card.

ES&S had solicited Mr. Sancho in December 2004, but Sancho did not offer an affirmative response. However, with HAVA deadlines looming, Diebold was hitching their wagon solely to touch-screen voting, and in Florida, touch- screens do not provide a paper trail. Sancho favored the AutoMark, a disability- approved technology distributed by ES&S which does produce a paper ballot.

In June 2005, shortly after the May security tests by Thompson and Hursti, Sancho approached ES&S to inquire about purchasing the AutoMark.

"I called ES&S and said, 'Can I get deep discounts over the price if I go with AutoMark?' They crowed about it [the opportunity to do business]. They said 'Absolutely, both on our M100s [optical scan machines] and on the AutoMark.'"

Sancho began thinking even more seriously about dumping Diebold when, on July 13 at 11:09 a.m. he received a letter warning him that Diebold would not support his system if he purchased Automark for the disabled. In the state of Illinois, Diebold apparently has not made the same threat, and on Jan. 9 this year Illinois certified the AutoMark for use with Diebold optical scanners.

Matters got worse. Leon County was paying $6,000 a year for an active contract with Diebold to provide software upgrades. The state of Florida had certified a central tabulator upgrade, GEMS 1.18.19, in March 2005.

In August, Sancho was notifed that the city of Tallahassee was going to conduct a referendum.

"I contacted Diebold and asked, 'Why haven't we receved 18.19?" Sancho says. "I was placed on hold and then shifted to Michael Lindroos [the attorney for the Diebold, Inc. board of directors].

"I asked Mr. Lindroos, I said 'We have a contract with you for the software, there seems to be some stalling for the receipt of this software.' He directly told me we would not receive the new software unless we signed a new contract.

"Now, I have a signed check here, Diebold cashed the check. They’re in breach of their contract."


ES&S and Leon County proceeded ahead for the transition from Diebold to ES&S.

As the last step for the sale, Sancho told ES&S, "We’re going to require one test. We'll use your equipment on November 17, and if it performs satisfactorily we'll proceed. It performed well, and we received the contract. I spoke with Al Benek (VP Operations) and Dick Fox (VP Accounting). ES&S invited our staff to join the ES&S users group. We were treated as if we were already a member of the ES&S community."

"Everything seemed copacetic. I told them we had their estimate and would they cut off $50,000 off their estimate. Mr Fox said not a problem, Mr. Benek said not a problem. We shook hands on the deal. They sent the contract back to ES&S for the adjustment, and I waited to get it so I could cut the check.

Near the end of December, Sancho received a call from the Florida representative for ES&S, telling him there was a problem.

"He said, 'You need to talk to the president,'" Sancho says. "I said certainly, I volunteered to fly to Nebraska to directly talk to him face to face."

They ended up setting up a conference call. And on Dec. 29, just two days before the HAVA deadline, Sancho got the final decision by way of a message left on his voicemail.

Gary Crump, from ES&S, said in the recorded message that ES&S had made a decision not to sell to Leon County, claiming that the resources of ES&S were stretched to the limit and therefore they had decided only to sell to existing customers, and customers they had been pursuing and involved with for a long time.

Whatever. That doesn't explain why they just sold a system to Volusia County, when it dumped Diebold on Dec. 17, nor why ES&S sold their system to a number of other jurisdictions in the U.S.

"They praised Leon County as recognized as an industry leader but said 'We just can't provide you the equipment,'" said Sancho. "Coming as it did at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, we are now subject to losing almost $600,000 of HAVA monies, and ES&S chose not to fulfill approximately 1.8 million in sales."

This includes a decision to decline to sell the AutoMark, which may violate ES&S's agreement with the makers of AutoMark.


What's next? Sancho admits he's been on the front lines, and that it's no fun to take bullets from the voting industry while he stands his ground on behalf of the voters of Leon County. He's playing his cards close to the vest.

"We have made preliminary contacts with legal representatives of Diebold pursuant to a number of issues," he says.

Ion Sancho is to be credited not only with taking a stand on behalf of his voters. He has forced the voting machine vendors to show their true colors, and honest elections officials throughout the country are struggling with untenable options.

America, if ever there was a time to stand shoulder to shoulder, and show support of an American hero, this is the time.

The time has come for a congressional investigation with subpeona power and testimony under penalty of perjury. This can be state or federal. Whoever gets Diebold and ES&S and key figures in the certification process under oath first will join Sancho in the history books.

* * * * * *


(1) All American Paper Chase

(2) Waste Archeology Watchdogs

(3) Candid America Project


Black Box Voting is fighting for your right, as a citizen, to oversee your elections. We are working on issues of voting machine security and accuracy, timely production of key elections public records, and providing training and consultation for citizens who want to get involved.

In 2006, we are emphasizing decentralized, autonomous citizen actions. It is important for American citizens to re-learn how to act independently of any organization. This is the best way for true citizen oversight to become a national habit.

Do not expect any group, coalition, master plan or agenda to oversee your local election. YOU are "We, the People." And take courage: There can be nothing more daunting to any corrupt public official than an autonomous ordinary citizen using his/her own common sense.


Black Box Voting is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer protection group for elections, funded solely by citizen donations. To support this work, click here: or mail to: Black Box Voting 330 SW 43rd St Suite K PMB 547 Renton WA 98055

Black Box Voting is not affiliated with any vendor, political party, or political point of view. Our work has been covered by CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, The New York Times, Time Magazine, and most major news outlets in the U.S.Black Box Voting

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