Sunday, November 05, 2006

DEMOCRATS.COM: Is the Devil in the Details?

Posted by Chip

Is the election integrity of 17 states compromised by their use of voting machines that could have ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez?
Sequoia, third largest electronic voting machine vendor in the US, sold to Venezuela's Smartmatic on March 8, 2005. Twenty months later, and barely more than a week before the 2006 mid-term elections, Sequoia and Smartmatic "voluntarily submitted a notice to the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to allow the U.S. Government to review Smartmatic's acquisition of Sequoia."
According to its website, “Smartmatic is the device networking company. We envision a world where everything will be connected. And we're making it and now.” The company uses "Device-networking applications" (which) "share common functionality in areas like device and device network management; remote device monitoring and servicing; and delivery of value added services based on device networking applications." We've all heard of six degrees among humans, but frankly, the idea of our voting equipment being connected and remotely operable is more disconcerting than comforting.
It's not just connectivity that's disconcerting, however. In Venezuela, a technician named Leopoldo Gonzalez, using a program downloaded from the Internet, demonstrated that Smartmatic machines operate by keeping a sequence of the votes cast along with the voter's identity, preventing a transparent process for maintaining vote secrecy.
In May, 2006, NY Democratic Congressional Representative Carolyn B. Maloney asked Treasury Secretary John Snow whether the Sequoia-Smartmatic deal was either reviewed by the Treasury Department or vetted through the Committee on Foreign Investments in the US (CFIUS).
“Just as the Dubai ports deal was a priority security issue, any potential foreign influence on our elections system is vital to our national security and deserves at least a look,” said Maloney. “It doesn’t seem that the deal for Sequoia was vetted by our government, and I want to know why.”
In 1993 the Byrd amendment made one criteria for CFIUS investigation that "the acquirer is controlled by or acting on behalf of a foreign government." The history of Smartmatic raises this issue as Bizta, a start-up company that was folded into Smartmatic, received $200,000 in start-up funds from the Venezuelan Finance Ministry in exchange for a 28% stake and a seat on the company's board. And, according to Congresswoman Maloney's second letter to Treasury Secretary Snow on October 6, 2005, "Smartmatic shared a founder, officers, directors, and a principal place of business with Bizta."
Smartmatic provided the voting machines on which the votes were cast in Chavez's 2004 recall election, subsequently declared legitimate despite the opposition's claims of vote rigging. The official audit was reviewed by American election experts, one of whom found the audit badly flawed. “They did it all wrong,” one of the authors of the study, Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, said in an interview. Dr. Rubin's work with Bev Harris is shown in HBO's currently showing documentary "Hacked Democracy."
International relations between the countries' and their two presidents have been more strained since President Chavez told the United Nations: "And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here." [crosses himself] "And it smells of sulfur still today."