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John Gideon
Information Manager, VotersUnite.Org
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jgideon at votersunite.org

Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors Chooses Promises Over Evidence

Updated: October 20, 2005. The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to allow the County Clerk, Gail Pellerin, to enter into contract negotiations with Sequoia Voting Systems, a recently purchased subsidiary of Smartmatic, Inc. which is a Florida-registered, Venezuelan-owned, company. Pellerin recommended a blended system using Sequoia optical scanners and one Sequoia Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting system with voter-verified paper audit trail in each polling place.

The 94-page report Pellerin presented to the Board contains 69 pages of information supplied by citizen opponents of the purchase, including documented failures of Sequoia DRE systems in past elections, analyses showing the higher operating cost of DREs, and testimony by disabled individuals explaining the difficulties they had using Sequoia voting machines. Read the report here.

One member of the Public Advisory Committee established to provide counsel to the current voting systems evaluation and selection process states the following reasons why the Sequoia DRE is not a good choice:

It is only conditionally certified in California and is not certified for the primary election.

It currently provides no special features to allow manually disabled individuals to vote independently as required by HAVA.

Blind voters have complained about the audio interface of the Sequoia DRE since 2004, and while Sequoia promised at that time to fix those problems, it has not yet done so.

He adds that the other option for disabled voters of Santa Cruz County, the ES&S AutoMark system, was the top-rated system in a recent survey of over 100 disabled voters conducted by the Oregon Secretary of State's office and that the ES&S AutoMark system would fulfill all state and federal requirements with just the addition of a readily available privacy sleeve.

While the Voting Systems Task Force had recommended a full Sequoia DRE system throughout the county, Pellerin cited strong public preference for paper ballots and cautioned against the high cost and the risk of relying on such "immature technology."

Pellerin acknowledges that the Sequoia system is not fully state certified and that the acquisition cost is $171,000 more than the ES&S optical scan and AutoMark system. Nevertheless, she recommended the purchase of Sequoia's system, citing promises from Sequoia that the DRE will meet state and federal requirements by December. She also acknowledges that the county could find itself out of compliance with HAVA if Sequoia fails to receive full California certification for its system.

According to eye witnesses at the public hearing on Tuesday, October 18, every member of the public who spoke to the Board objected to the Sequoia voting system, and many preferred the AutoMark. Only the county clerks from the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville supported Pellerin. The Board voted to accept Pellerin's recommendation.

John Gideon, Information Manager for VotersUnite.Org says, I am shocked that any county board would ignore the voices of the voters and base such an important and costly decision on promises from a vendor. The Board members are all elected officials. The voters of Santa Cruz County need to make them painfully aware that they answer to the people and not to Sequoia Voting Systems.

In a related incident the day before the hearing, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed suit against Santa Cruz County for violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), citing the lack of access to many polling places for voters with disabilities. The AG's press release states, "Some of the violations found in Santa Cruz included polling sites with no wheelchair accessible paths of travel, steep ramps as much as four-times the legal slope limit, improperly sized disabled parking spaces, non-compliant door thresholds and door widths that were too narrow, and ramps without handrails or edge protections." The press release can be found here.

Ellen Theisen, Executive Director of VotersUnite.Org said, "The Board's decision to buy non-accessible voting machines to meet the accessibility requirements of HAVA would be laughable if it weren't so serious. Add to that the fact that they aren't even providing a way for voters with disabilities to get to the machines, and you have to wonder if they're paying attention."

VotersUnite! (http://www.votersunite.org) is a national non-partisan organization dedicated to fair and accurate elections. It focuses on distributing well-researched information to elections officials, elected officials, the media, and the public; as well as providing activists with information they need to work toward transparent elections in their communities.

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