Florida voting official rapped for telling truth

Serious problems remain with our election machinery and with some of our election officials. Ion Sancho, Leon County, Florida, election supervisor, is a case in point.

Last year, Sancho demonstrated “serious security vulnerabilities” with Diebold voting machines. In California, officials were grateful for his report, regarding Sancho as something of a hero for exposing the truth.

California sent its independent, expert-rich Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board to make its own investigation. Florida, however, did not see Sancho as heroic. The Miami Herald reported that state’s secretary of state’s office pooh-poohed Sancho’s findings and showed more interest in supporting voting machine vendors than in conducting transparent, honest elections. Florida threatened to sue Sancho.

The Herald said only three voting machine makers are certified to do business in Florida; other companies are shut out. When two of the three companies refused to sell their machines to Leon County, the state of Florida took back $564,421 in grant money because Sancho did not meet the deadline for buying new voting machines.

In California last month, the voting systems assessment board issued a report that pointed to Leon County’s security tests. Sancho brought in renowned computer expert Harri Hursti of Finland to try to hack Leon County’s Diebold voting system. Hursti irrefutably demonstrated that someone inside the supervisor’s office could both change the outcome of an election and erase any trace of interfering with the count.

David Wagner, a computer scientist at the University of California and a member of the voting machine assessment board, said the follow-up investigation the board conducted “absolutely vindicated Sancho’s concerns.” Wagner added: “Our report found all of Ion Sancho’s concerns were valid and, in fact, worse than anyone realized.”

California issued a series of fixes for its system last month. The Florida Secretary of State’s office recently sent out those same California directives to county election supervisors. There was no mention that the same information had been available in Sancho’s Tallahassee office.

“This is incredible how he has been treated,” Wagner said. “He’s the leader everyone else in the nation has been watching. Because of his investigation, we’ve been able to strengthen security and protect the voters of California and Florida.”

Wagner observed that Sancho has been savaged for telling the truth. One vendor canceled his orders at the last moment, one won’t sell him machines, and the third will not return his telephone calls.

The state, instead of investigating possible collusion, quickly canceled Sancho’s grant and threatened to sue him for dereliction of duty. The assault has been joined by a couple of Leon County commissioners, The Herald said.

“It’s been a rough few weeks,” Sancho said.

Florida doesn’t seem to mind if its only licensed vendors refuse to sell voting machines to certain supervisors. “Can a vendor punish someone who exposes defects in their product?” Wagner asked. “If they can drive out Ion Sancho, this is going to have a chilling effect on election supervisors across the country.”

Wagner termed Sancho a “real hero.” The Herald observed: In Florida, real heroes just catch hell.

From the March 15-21, 2006, issue

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