Why elections stink

Why elections stink

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

This is part two of a look at the people who own the companies that make the machines used to count your votes. As we said last week, the largest of these is Election Systems and Software (ES&S).

ES&S was formed by a merger of American Information Systems, based in Omaha, and Business Records Corp., based in Dallas. The latter company was partly owned by Cronus Industries, a firm with links to the Hunt brothers oil millionaires from Texas and others, including Rothschild, Inc.

ES&S is the only voting machine company allowed to count votes in Nebraska, which is represented by Sen. Charles Hagel. Hagel moved to Omaha in 1992 to become chairman of American Information Systems and a private investment group known as the McCarthy Group.

AIS was the company that counted the votes when Hagel ran for the Senate in 1996. He had resigned as CEO of the company in 1995. The McCarthy Group is said to own 35 percent of ES&S.

As we mentioned in our previous article, AIS was originally begun by Bob and Todd Urosevich. Today Bob is president of Diebold Election Systems, and Todd is vice-president at ES&S.

No one outside ES&S knows its full ownership because the company refuses to disclose it. Any conflicts of interest or other problematical circumstances are thus concealed.

Investigative reporter Christopher Bollyn reported that when he went to the Chicago office of ES&S to inquire about the company’s ownership, his life was threatened.

Another company making and using these machines is Sequoia Voting Systems. Investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker says of this company: “Mob ties, bribery, felony convictions, and threats of coercion are visible in the public record of the election services company.”

Hopsicker said Pasquale “Rocco” Ricci, a senior executive with Sequoia and the company’s Louisiana representative, entered a guilty plea to passing out up to $10 million in bribes over nearly 10 years. Ricci is president of Sequoia International, a maker of casino slot machines.

Writer Beverly Harris, who operates a Website called Talion.com, reports 85 percent of Sequoia is owned by De La Rue, the world’s largest commercial and security printer, which produces more than 150 currencies and documents such as travelers checks and vouchers, and 15 percent by Jefferson Smurf. Smurf is in the process of selling his interest in Sequoia.

Diebold Election Systems, with Bob Urosevich at the helm, bought out Global Election Systems just this year. The company had been guided by Howard Van Pelt and Larry Ensminger but they have since joined Advanced Voting Systems, an offshoot of Shoup.

The late Jim Collier, co-author of VoteScam, the book that first revealed vote rigging in Florida, said Shoup Voting Solutions of Quakertown, Pa., has a reputation for rigging elections. Collier reported the company president, Ransom Shoup, in 1979, was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice resulting from an FBI investigation of a vote-rigging scam in Philadelphia which involved the old-style lever voting machines.

And for a real feeling of confidence in modern electronic machine voting, there’s Accenture/Hart Intercivic. This company was spun off from Andersen Consulting, Inc., a division of the same Andersen accounting firm involved in the Enron scandal and now going into the vote counting business.

Improper behavior on the part of these voting machine companies is popping up all over the place like toadstools. In California, the Secretary of State, Bill Jones, said he’s investigating whether the state employee in charge of evaluating voting machines improperly took a job with one of the companies. Louis Dedier, the director of voting systems for California, left his job this month to take a position with ES&S.

California law prohibits a former state employee from influencing decisions by the agencies in which he or she worked. Dedier informed his boss of his new job on Oct. 9 but made recommendations to a voting systems panel on Oct. 11 without disclosing his new position.

In Louisiana, long-time lobbyist Lehman Williamson was to go on trial last month on charges of public bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The case involves former state Elections Commissioner Jerry Fowler. Williamson is accused of giving cash to Fowler in return for state contracts. Fowler is doing five years in federal prison. One of the charges against him was that he took part in a kickback scheme involving voting machines. A Sequoia salesman was awaiting trial.

In Florida, a former secretary of state made a nice profit by being both a lobbyist for that state’s counties and for the company that sold them the touch-screen machines used in the recently botched Florida primary.

Sandra Mortham, who was Florida’s top election official from 1995 to 1999, is a lobbyist for ES&S and the Florida Association of Counties. The latter group gave ES&S exclusive contracts in return for a commission.

Mortham got a commission from ES&S for every county that bought the company’s machines. She says there’s nothing wrong with that. ES&S raked in more than $70.6 million in orders from Florida counties. The

association of counties is to get a commission of about $300,000.

Mortham was Jeb Bush’s original choice as his running mate in 1998. She oversaw Florida’s Division of Elections six years ago.

Government officials with the say about election hardware are targeted by voting machine companies with offers of entertainment and campaign donations.

In the East, an individual identified only as “Culp,” left a Maryland prison in September after serving 30 months. He was convicted of taking 122 bribes and kickbacks amounting to more than $134,000 between January 1990 and March 1998.

The voting machines he bought from the salesman who paid him off had so many problems, it was reported, that he wrote four letters of complaint even while he was taking the bribes.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported last April that Accenture/Hart Intercivic was enlisting the aid of two lobbyists who gave a combined total of $16,000 to Gov. Roy Barnes, $6,000 to Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and $2,000 to Secretary of State Cathy Cox.

That outdid the campaign contributions of the ES&S lobbyist who gave Barnes only $7,000, $1,000 to Taylor and $500 to Cox.

Down in “Slick Willie” country Arkansas Secretary of State Bill McCuen pleaded guilty to felony charges of taking bribes, evading taxes and accepting kickbacks.

Part of that case involved Business Records Corp. of Dallas, now a part of ES&S. BRC sold Arkansas computerized systems for recording voter registration and corporate records.

Officials said the scheme involved a then-employee of BRC who got immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony. That employee was Tom Eschberger. And where is Eschberger today? Why, he’s a top executive of ES&S.

Sickening, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem to bother some officials, though. In Pinellas County, Fla., Commissioner Calvin Harris and County Judge Patrick Caddell told the St. Petersburg Times a year ago that they were aware that the voting machine companies had “problems in their pasts.” But, as Harris put it, “We have to look at this objectively and not get tied up into the emotions of ‘Some guy might be a crook.’”

Investigative reporter Lynn Landes advised Harris: “Dear Commissioner Harris: When it comes to elections in America, assume crooks are in control and then act accordingly.”

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