Sunday, February 3, 2008

No Fat Lady Song Yet

So you thought we were at the finish line......Nope. Not yet.

23 January '08 and the election integrity advocates watching the goings on of the state Board of Elections in Saratoga were proud of Commissioner Doug Kellner as he tried to hold the board together to do their duty. He failed, the two Republican Commissioners refused to come to the table. They wanted their favored friend, Liberty Election Systems, to be approved and were holding the meeting up while various Albany politicians twisted arms and threatened kneecaps.

Before the Board even began their meeting it was announced that Republican Co-Executive Director Peter Kosinski had left the office and legal assistant Todd Valentine was to replace him. I have no info as to the reason for these personnel moves but the timing causes one to suspect a connection to the voting equipment struggle. We note the Republican side of the board has been championing Liberty from day one. (Another observer notes that Sequoia has also had political champions since early in the game. If so that might partially account for that vendor's success)

Many of us had to leave Saratoga that evening without knowing how the struggle would play out. The next morning we were gratified to hear that the Republicans had joined Kellner in approving three ballot marking systems, all compatible with paper ballots. The joy was short lived however.

Within hours of the vote rumors were heard that at least one of the rejected applicants was planning to litigate their exclusion. And then, on Monday, the authorization for two systems using the AutoMark BMD were recinded by vitue of a vote by the Republican Executive Director, leaving Sequoia the only system standing. Before the end of the week we knew that two vendors were in court attempting to compel the BOE to include their machines.

Should Liberty Election Systems prevail some local Election Commissioners would likely choose this DRE-jury-rigged-to-BMD, a very poor choice. The other litigant, Premier Election Solutions, will be arguing to be reinstated. They probably should be since the AutoMark BMD they feature has been in service in other states for several years and enjoys the acceptance of the disabled community.

The absurdity of this wretched drama is that the three machines initially approved have not been tested and are not certified by the state BOE. These systems are prototypes and are only available by virtue of the pressure applied by the Federal Court. The two systems using the AutoMark BMD (Premier and ES&S) at least have that unit's experience supporting their acceptance. The Sequoia ImageCast is a totally untested BMD mated with a scanner used in Canada.

Several counties have already announced their decision. Schoharie County Commissioners Cliff Hay (D) and Lew Wilson (R) are reported to have chosen the Sequoia within just a couple of days after the BOE met. That same news report quoted the contract total cost as $250,000.00 for eighteen Sequoia units. That's $13,888.00 each unit! A scary high number which seems to indicate the vendors are taking advantage of the federal court's pressure.

Part of the reason for the high price tag is that the vendors offer their equipment as a system comprised of a ballot marking device and a ballot scanner. I understand the Sequoia must be purchased this way while ES&S and Premier will sell the AutoMark BMD alone. Jurisdicitions choosing the AutoMark BMD only for this year are effectively keeping all their options open as to which scanner to select for 2009. This seems to be a sensible course of action.

We'll be revisiting this issue later this week after the courts hear vendor's arguments and render decisions. Oh yeah, the finish line is out there in the fall of 2009. We've got a lot of running and shouting to do before then.

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