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Wednesday, November 19, 2003 - Page d at 12:41 A.M.

Fired engineer reaches deal with election-software company

By Keith Ervin
Seattle Times staff reporter

Bellevue-based election-security company VoteHere has settled a lawsuit filed by a former employee who said he was fired because he'd complained that the company's software was riddled with security defects.

Neither side would say whether Daniel Spillane, the software engineer, received a payment in the settlement.

"We have resolved the matter to our mutual satisfaction and have agreed that we are in pursuit of many of the same goals for election reform," Spillane's attorney, Stan Lippmann, said.

VoteHere manages online elections and markets software intended to verify the accuracy of electronic voting machines. The privately held company, founded in 1996, has shifted its focus in the past two years from producing electronic-balloting systems to selling software to manufacturers of electronic voting machines. As questions have grown in recent months about the integrity of electronic voting, critics have proposed that voting machines print paper ballots that could be used in manual recounts.

Instead, VoteHere is developing software that would allow voters to verify that their vote was correctly recorded and counted on election night. The company has struck a deal with one of the major electronic-voting companies, Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, Calif., to put its verification software into Sequoia machines next year.

Spillane sued his former employer in King County Superior Court in February, saying the company had tried to hide software problems from an independent testing authority that certifies vote-counting systems for the federal government.

While working at VoteHere from January to July of 2001, Spillane said he filed about 250 "defect reports," but managers declined to resolve critical problems.

Spillane said he told VoteHere President and CEO Jim Adler and another executive that company managers were not fully cooperating with the testing authority. Two days later — "immediately before he was to meet with authorities from the voting system testing lab" — he was fired without warning, according to his lawsuit.

The company said all of Spillane's accusations of improper conduct are untrue. VoteHere said the company provided full documentation of its software to the independent testing authority.

The company said Spillane's defect reports were difficult to address because of their "lack of clarity and detail."

VoteHere also said Spillane never told Adler managers were attempting to thwart the work of the independent testing lab. He was fired, the company said, after several discussions about his performance. During his 15-year-plus career, Spillane worked for companies including FileNet, Lucent and Attachmate.

VoteHere recently posted technical details about its system and invited experts to critique them.

"We're inviting people to ask hard questions. Sunlight kills all bacteria. We're trying to be as good a corporate citizen as we can in this market," Adler said.

He said his company's vote-verification software will do a better job of guaranteeing fair elections than paper ballots or electronic voting machines.

David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University and founder of VerifiedVoting.org, a group critical of electronic voting, praised VoteHere for posting details about how it uses cryptography.

"I would like to see every voting-machine company doing the same thing, revealing the details of their technology so it can be reviewed."

Independent computer scientists are reviewing the information, but Dill said they have not reached conclusions about the effectiveness of the VoteHere system.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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