Thursday, May 11, 2006


Waukesha County split on voting firm
Equipment vendor owned by citizen of Venezuela

Posted: May 11, 2006
Elections in Waukesha County could become more cumbersome and costly because of disagreement emerging from a $600,000 effort to make voting easier for people with disabilities, officials have suggested.
The fear is based partly on concerns among some local officials that an equipment vendor, approved by the state and recommended by the county clerk, is owned by an individual from Venezuela.
Officials in Menomonee Falls and Mukwonago are among those considering breaking ranks with the rest of the county to steer clear of products made by Sequoia Voting Systems, based in Oakland, Calif. Sequoia spokeswoman Michelle Shafer said the firm's parent company, Smartmatic Corp., is owned by a citizen of Venezuela, a South American nation whose leftist president is allied with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Shafer said the Venezuelan government, led by controversial President Hugo Chavez, has no role in the company, but the ownership question has dogged the company elsewhere in recent months.
"We've addressed these questions before," she said. "There's a lot of misinformation."
Wisconsin state election officials say Sequoia passed rigorous federal screening before being certified by the state as one of four vendors qualified to supply new equipment for voters with disabilities. Under federal law, the technology offering touch-screen ballots and other options must be available in all polling places by September.
Mukwonago Village President James Wagner called it "an oxymoron" to purchase equipment for democratic elections from a company associated with a communist-leaning country.
"That just kind of seems a little strange," Wagner said.
Mukwonago village trustees will consider the issue soon, after a recent decision in Menomonee Falls to authorize purchase of voting machines from a Sequoia competitor. Menomonee Falls Trustee Jim Jeskewitz said concerns about the vendor's Venezuelan ownership were raised by the village clerk, along with other questions about Sequoia's track record and costs.
"It just doesn't seem to fit," Jeskewitz said.
Other vendors certified by the state include Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., Diebold Election Systems of Allen, Texas, and Vote-PAD Inc. of Port Ludlow, Wash.
Each municipality is getting federal funding to equip polling places for disabled voters. Under the Help America Vote Act, the funding is equal to $6,000 per polling place, which totals $600,000 in Waukesha County.
Kyle Richmond, spokesman for the State Elections Board, said the state would not get involved in "political questions" about Sequoia, noting that officials have heard some concerns from within Waukesha County.
Richmond said state officials believe an individual county will function best if all municipalities purchase the same type of machines.
Administering elections could become difficult and expensive if different technologies are in place, he said.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said her office called together municipal clerks to examine and discuss the different technologies.
Out of 35 cities, towns and villages in the county, 29 agreed to go with Sequoia, she said.
"We could stay as one," she said. "That was the whole intent."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Posted on Tue, May. 09, 2006
Voting machine sale in questionA Boca Raton company's purchase of a supplier of voting machines worried some because of the companies' past ties with Venezuela's government.
WASHINGTON - A member of Congress has asked the Bush administration if it reviewed the purchase of a U.S. supplier of voting equipment by a Boca Raton company that once had controversial connections to the Venezuelan government.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, wrote to Treasury Secretary John Snow, asking whether the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) had cleared last year's purchase of the California-based Sequoia Voting Systems by the Smartmatic Corp.
The transaction drew little scrutiny until Sequoia-supplied equipment for a March 21 election in Chicago was marred by technical glitches and delays. One local official suggested Venezuela was trying to infiltrate the U.S. electoral system.
The Smartmatic machines have been controversial in Venezuela, where they were first used in a 2004 recall referendum handily won by leftist President Hugo Chávez. The opposition cried fraud, but several independent checks of the results turned up no evidence of manipulation.
''As you can imagine, having a foreign government investing in or owning a company that supplies voting machines for U.S. elections could raise concerns over the integrity of elections conducted with those machines,'' Maloney said in the letter.
Michelle Shafer, a Sequoia-Smartmatic spokeswoman, said the Venezuelan government no longer has an investment in the company and that the CFIUS review was unnecessary. Maloney is a ranking member on the subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology, which has jurisdiction over CFIUS, the U.S. government entity that can probe foreign purchases.
Smartmatic purchased Sequoia in March last year. Smartmatic's controlling shareholder and CEO, Antonio Mugica, is a dual Venezuelan-Spanish national. He and another partner, Alfredo Anzola, also control Bizta, which received a $150,000 investment from the Venezuelan government in return for a 28 percent stake in the software company. The government sold its stake before the recall referendum, and after the Miami Herald reported the investment, which sparked complaints that the Chávez government had a stake in the machines that were to count the votes for and against him.