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Ousted voting machine makers try again

La. election officials let four companies make case to compete for big state contract

By MARSHA SHULER    The Baton Rouge Advocate   26 March 2005

Four voting machine companies disqualified from competing for a $47 million state contract will get a last chance to convince state elections officials that they meet the necessary standards.

First Assistant Secretary of State Al Ater said face-to-face meetings to go over disagreements will begin Tuesday with Diebold, the company that has filed suit in state district court challenging its exclusion.

Three other companies that also did not meet the standards required to compete for the contract will be extended the same courtesy, Ater said.

Ater said the sessions with company officials will be limited to areas of dispute.

"I assume each are going to want to take the appeals process all the way through," said Ater. 
"When you are talking about this much money, such a big deal, all are going to exhaust all appeals they have got," he said.

Resolving the disputes, including court protests, will delay the issuance of requests for proposals, but not enough for the state to miss federal deadlines for having new machines in place, Ater said.

Officials now expect the requests for proposals to go out in May instead of early April, Ater said.

Louisiana must replace about 5,000 lever-style voting machines that do not meet federal standards by the time federal elections roll around in 2006.

The federal government is paying for the machines.

The Secretary of State's Office concluded only three of eight voting machine vendors met both state and federal requirements and therefore were eligible to compete for the at least $47 million contract.

The office certified machines from Advanced Voting Solutions, Elections System and Software and Sequoia Voting System.

Machines from Diebold, Accupoll, Populex, Hart Intercivic and Liberty Elections System were excluded.

All but Liberty Elections appealed the decision to the secretary of state's office. Diebold also appealed to state purchasing director Denise Lea who concluded she had no jurisdiction.

The company then went to district court.

Ater, who is staying out of the ion process, said the companies had multiple problems in meeting standards based on reviews by a broad-based 17-person certification team.

He said each was advised where it fell short and given the opportunity to respond in writing.

Those responses were reviewed and points left in dispute are now the subject of the face-to-face sessions with the certification committee "to clear up any misunderstandings," he said.

Ater stressed that failure to meet just one requirement would still disqualify a company.

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