Diebold Rep Now Runs Elections


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Desertdog
October 2, 2004, 12:11 AM
Diebold Rep Now Runs Elections
http://www.wired.com/news/evote/0,2645,65120,00.htmltw=wn_tophead_2

An influential employee of voting machine maker Diebold Election Systems left the company recently to take a job as elections manager for a California county.

Deborah Seiler, a sales representative for the beleaguered voting company, was hired a week ago and started Monday in Solano County, northeast of San Francisco in California's wine country. The position puts her second in command of elections in the county, under the registrar of voters.

The move raises eyebrows because Seiler played a role in a recent scandal involving Diebold and the county. As the Diebold sales rep, Seiler sold Solano County nearly 1,200 touch-screen machines that were not federally tested or state certified. When the state banned the machines because of Diebold's business practices, the county had to find a replacement for the machines and pay Diebold more than $400,000 to get out of its contract.

"This is outrageous. This is just a total runaround of the democratic process," said Douglas MacDonald, of the Community Labor Alliance, an activist group that pressured Solano County to end its contract with Diebold. "There was an open debate and discussion, and the county (supervisors) decided that Diebold is not the company, is not the philosophy, that we want behind the running of elections in Solano County. Then what happens? They go out and hire the person who was advocating that philosophy."

But Ira Rosenthal, Solano County's registrar of voters and chief information officer, defended the hire, saying that Seiler was the best-qualified candidate for the job. She had been California's chief elections official in the mid-1980s before taking the job with Diebold.

"We have to look at the track record of the person and what she knows," Rosenthal said. "We had a very successful election in the March primary (with the Diebold machines). We had not one issue. She was instrumental in helping us get that off the ground."

Rosenthal said only four candidates applied for the job, which became available in May, and three of them were employees of voting machine companies. He declined to name the other companies.

California and other states have had a history of revolving doors between election offices and voting vendors. Voting companies hire election officials as sales representatives and consultants to take advantage of their connections and camaraderie with other election officials in order to gain advantage over competitors bidding for multimillion-dollar contracts. Some voters have voiced concerns about the conflicts of interest.

Seiler's move is a rare one, however -- an election official who left state employment to go work for a voting company, then came back to elections.

Before taking the job with Diebold, Seiler was California's chief of elections in the secretary of state's office for 12 years. She was heavily involved in election legislation, consulting with the state assembly committee on election legislation, and played a large role in crafting the state's election code, according to Rosenthal. In 1991, she quit her job in the secretary of state's office and went to work for the elections industry, working eight years for Sequoia Voting Systems, a competitor of Diebold, before moving to Diebold.

"If somebody knows elections in California, it's her," Rosenthal said. "She fills this gap in experience in our department."

Kim Alexander, founder and president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said, "There's no doubt that Deborah Seiler is one of the most experienced in California elections. But I find it confusing that the county would hire someone who played a role in their acquisition of uncertified equipment."

Solano County canceled its $4.1 million contract with Diebold in April, following a series of hearings in which the secretary of state's office revealed that Diebold had installed uncertified software on machines in 17 California counties, violating state election laws. The state also accused the company of misleading state officials about certification issues.

Solano had purchased and already taken delivery of Diebold's new AccuVote-TSx touch-screen voting machines last year, with the understanding that the system had been federally tested and was about to be state certified.

According to news reports at the time, Seiler assured Solano supervisors last November that Diebold's machines had already received certification, though she was unable to produce a copy of the letter verifying that.

"There is no doubt on the certification of this equipment," Seiler was quoted in a local paper.

Seiler did not respond to a request for comment.

But the system hadn't been certified and when state officials learned that the system they were planning to certify was not exactly the same system Diebold had submitted to federal testing labs, they canceled plans to certify the system.

The state then prohibited Solano and three other counties from using the TSx machines, forcing them to find another system only a few months before the presidential elections. The state's attorney general is currently pursuing a false claims suit against Diebold alleging the company aggressively marketed a system it knew was not tested or approved by federal authorities.

After the scandal erupted, Diebold attempted to keep Solano as a customer, promising to outfit the county for November with free optical-scan machines that were certified, with the option of keeping the machines after the election or switching back to touch-screen machines once they were certified.

But county supervisors rejected the offer, even though it would cost them to terminate the Diebold contract, citing concerns about Diebold's business practices and voter confidence. Registrar of voters Laura Winslow, who had been a staunch supporter of Diebold and the touch-screen machines, resigned after the state's ban on the machines.

Solano County Supervisor John Silva, who only learned of the hiring Tuesday after Seiler started work, said he wouldn't comment on internal election department hiring. Fellow Supervisor Barbara Kondylis didn't return calls for comment, but she told a local paper she heard about the hiring only from another employee.

"I am so angry," she told the Fairfield Daily Republic. "And it's done without telling us." She said that although Seiler's qualifications were "excellent," she was concerned how voters would view the hiring.

Voting activist MacDonald was clear on how he felt about it.

"We spent seven months working to get Diebold out of Solano, now they've come in the back door," he said. "We need someone who is as open and forthcoming as possible running our elections, and that's the exact opposite of the corporate culture she's coming from. The veil that we worked so hard to take down, is now sliding back in."

To read Wired News' complete coverage of e-voting, visit the Machine Politics section.

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Jim March
October 2, 2004, 12:24 AM
Well aware of this. It may not be what it seems, time will tell.

Ask yourselves why she left. And why now. And what might she know?

And then ask whether or not it's a good idea to antagonize her until we have answers to the above.

I do *not* have answers.

Yet.

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