Sunday, June 27, 2004

She'll Always Have a Job in Florida 

Courtesy of Susan at Suburban Guerilla: Mischelle Townsend, the election official who brought e-voting to Riverside County, has been fighting the decision by California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to decertify Diebold machines. Now, via Andrew Gumbel of the Independent, comes news that the embattled Ms. Townsend has resigned, ostensibly to "spend more time with her family":
It seems more than likely, however, than her decision was swayed by a looming lawsuit challenging her handling of a recount in a local county race in March, and a flurry of allegations about her own conduct in office and the misleading claims of Sequoia Voting Systems, the company that makes and services the county's voting machinery . . . .

According to the staff of one candidate, who were present in her office on election night, Ms Townsend inexplicably halted the count for about an hour while two Sequoia employees were observed typing at a computer terminal with access to the ballot tabulation software.

Only authorised county elections officers are supposed to have access to the machines during an election. And making software changes - if that is what happened - would be illegal. Before the counting stopped, candidate Linda Soubirous looked likely to qualify for a run-off with the man she was challenging, county supervisor Bob Buster. When it resumed, she fell steadily behind and eventually failed to qualify for the run-off by less than one-10th of one percentage point.

Ms Soubirous requested a recount, only to have Ms Townsend stonewall almost every request she made for machine data that might show a discrepancy. She is now about to sue the county for failing to respect basic electoral procedures. Sequoia has denied any wrongdoing. Ms Townsend has refused to be drawn on what happened.

Riverside's district attorney, at her request, investigated the accusations and cleared her of wrongdoing. But the district attorney was an overt supporter of Mr Buster's and a client of the same political consultancy firm used by both Mr Buster and Sequoia, casting doubt on his impartiality.
Back in April, the San Jose Mercury News reported the Soubirous campaign's allegations in greater detail:
[Campaign manager Brian] Floyd said he saw two men, who were subsequently identified as employees of Sequoia named Michael Frontera and Ed Campbell, working at computers in the vote-counting room on the eve of the election. Two days later, when provisional ballots were being counted, Floyd said he saw Campbell take a cartridge that appeared to contain ballots out of his pocket and return to the vote-counting room. Another witness claims Campbell loaded information from the cartridge into the vote-counting system and then left the county, taking the cartridge with him . . . .

"I cannot tell you how disappointed I was in reading what was posted on that site. It is so replete with misrepresentations, false statements and misleading information that I am going to have to put out a statement," Townsend said Thursday evening.

Alfie Charles, a Sequoia representative, said company employees in Riverside provided technical support and helped transfer data to the secretary of state on Election Night. Sequoia employees "did not conduct any sort of programming of the central tally system," Charles said.
When Ms. Townsend mentioned "that site" above, she was referring to Bev Harris's invaluable Black Box Voting, which broke the story before the press picked it up.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, activists have filed for an injunction that would bar Diebold machines from polling places this November. They're calling their suit "perhaps the last and only opportunity to avert the possibility of an electoral train wreck before it actually occurs."

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