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'Fundamentally flawed': Consultant rips into Sequoia's vote wares, election commission
By Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News, November 30, 2006

Denver's Election Day debacle was caused by custom Sequoia software that was "very poorly designed and fundamentally flawed," a consultant said Wednesday.

"It does not meet or even approach professional standards," said Fred Hessler, of Fujitsu Consulting, in his first report to Mayor John Hickenlooper's task force examining the election mess.

Hessler was reporting on voter registration software that slowed to a crawl and stopped, causing three-hour lines and leading an estimated 18,000 citizens to give up their attempt to cast a ballot.

Hessler said his team had 100 users open the first log-on page of the software, and it slowed when only one person logged on. He said that's because the program started accessing the database with that first page, and it should not.

Users followed standard computer procedure and closed a page by hitting the "x" in the upper right corner, but the program wasn't designed to work that way.

"Ninety percent of users did not exit correctly," he said.

The software failed to close these open sessions even after three hours.

"These are not minor oversights or errors," he said. "This is Programming 101."

The software was not stress-tested before the general election either by Sequoia or Denver, he said, even though it was so unstable it could not be used to train poll workers. Instead, they were trained on paper.

The Denver Election Commission, consisting of two elected commissioners and a county clerk appointed by the mayor, agreed to pay Sequoia Voting Systems $85,000 for the custom software.

But a Sequoia executive stunned the mayor's task force Wednesday by saying Sequoia does not make such electronic pollbook software.

Howard Cramer, a Sequoia vice president based in Denver, said he didn't even know his office had sold such a program to Denver until he heard it on the news on election night, "and I started making phone calls."

Cramer, who spoke before Fujitsu's scathing review of his company's work, said Sequoia makes only the voter registration database used by Denver, which is meant to be printed.

Cramer said Denver hired Sequoia to build its e-pollbook software, which checks off voters' names against the master voter list from remote locations. This happened even though "Sequoia has no experience in an e-poll book product," he said.

Cramer declined to answer when task force members asked if his company should have stress-tested the software before the city relied on it for 70,000 voters on Election Day.

The election commission's technology chief, Anthony Rainey, has been suspended after being blamed for many of the problems.

Overall, Fujitsu's Hessler said, the election commission revamped voting and brought in new technology "with little to no testing or contingency planning." He said the management and operational issues went beyond technology.

He questioned why the election commission made the massive change to vote centers - where any Denverite could cast a ballot and which required the new e-poll book - in a year when it was already struggling with new state and federal rules and new equipment.

Most cities around the nation did not do this, he said. Nor did they have problems finding polling centers accessible to the disabled, as Denver claimed it did.

He said the commission rejected Larimer County's electronic pollbook without good reason. He said it had been tested with 1 million voters and might well work for Denver.

Hickenlooper at one point summed up by asking his task force, "Is there anyone here who doesn't believe there were a lot of bad decisions made?"

Seeing no objection, he moved on.

What's next

Mayor John Hickenlooper's election task force usually meets in the law library of the Denver City and County Building:

10 a.m. Saturday: Public hearing to take testimony about election problems.

 



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