Sequoia Voting Systems

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Sequoia Voting Systems was a California-based company that is one of the largest providers of electronic voting systems in the U.S., having offices in Oakland, Denver and New York City. Some of its major competitors were Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) and Election Systems & Software.

It was acquired by Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems on June 4, 2010. At the time it had contracts for 300 jurisdictions in 16 states through its BPS, WinEDS, Edge, Edge2, Advantage, Insight, InsightPlus and 400C systems.[1]

Company history[edit]

Sequoia was involved with voting systems for more than 100 years. At the end of the 19th century, Sequoia invented the lever-action mechanical voting system. Many machines of this type are still used today in some U.S. jurisdictions. In the 1980s Sequoia was bought by Jefferson Smurfit, an Irish printing conglomerate which in turn sold it to De La Rue, a British currency paper printing and security company. After losing money for several years, on March 8, 2005, Sequoia was acquired by Smartmatic, a multi-national technology company which had developed advanced election systems, voting machines included. Thereafter Smartmatic assigned a major portion of its development and managerial teams, dedicated to revamping some of Sequoia's old-fashioned, legacy voting machines, and replacing their technology with avant-garde proprietary features and developments, which resulted in new, high-tech products. As a result, Sequoia sold many new-generation election products and experienced a healthy financial resurrection during the fiscal years of 2006 and 2007. However in November 2007, following a verdict by the CFIUS, Smartmatic was ordered to sell Sequoia, which it did to its Sequoia managers having U.S. citizenship.[2]

Controversies[edit]

California decertification/recertification[edit]

On August 3, 2007, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen withdrew approval and granted conditional reapproval[3] to Sequoia Voting Systems optical scan and DRE voting machines after a "review of the voting machines certified for use in California in March 2007"[3] found "significant security weaknesses throughout the Sequoia system"[4] and "pervasive structural weaknesses"[4] which raise "serious questions as to whether the Sequoia software can be relied upon to protect the integrity of elections."[4]

“Hanging chads" controversy[edit]

A 2007 investigative report by Dan Rather charged Sequoia with deliberately supplying poor quality punch-card ballots to Palm Beach County, Florida for the 2000 election. According to former Sequoia employees, the ballots for Palm Beach County were produced with paper and manufacturing processes that were outside of normal specifications. This supposedly caused all of the problems with "hanging chads". When quality problems were found, Sequoia management ordered the production workers to ignore them. One worker speculated that the object was to discredit punch-card ballots and thus promote sales of electronic voting machines. [5]

Florida touch-screen replacement[edit]

After the 2000 election problems, Florida required its counties to replace punch-card voting systems with touch-screen systems, some of which were purchased from Sequoia. However, there were some major problems with touch-screen systems, and in 2007 Florida ordered the counties to replace them with optical-scan systems by 1 July 2008. Sequoia offered to buy back its machines for $1 each. This offer was rejected.[6]

Threat of legal action against Professor Edward Felten[edit]

In early 2008, New Jersey election officials announced that they planned to send one or more Sequoia Advantage voting machines to Professors Edward Felten and Andrew Appel of Princeton University for analysis. Felten and Appel are computer scientists interested in security issues, especially in regard to electronic voting systems. In March 2008, Sequoia sent an e-mail to Professor Felten asserting that allowing him to examine Sequoia voting machines would violate the license agreement between Sequoia and the county which bought them, and also that Sequoia would take legal action "to stop... non-compliant analysis... publication of Sequoia software... or any other infringement of our intellectual property." [7] This action sparked outrage among computer technology activists.[8] Author and digital rights activist Cory Doctorow commented "It's hard to imagine a stupider legal threat."[9]

Shortly after this, Sequoia's corporate Web site was hacked. Ironically, the hack was first discovered by Ed Felten. Sequoia took its Web site down on 20 March and removed the "intrusive content".[10]

The Avante Lawsuit[edit]

On June 2006, Sequoia Voting Systems, along with Diebold and ES&S, were sued by a small, virtually unknown New Jersey technology company called 'Avante', alleging infringement of two of its patents covering DREs (Direct Recording Electronic voting machines) and Optical Scanners. The lawsuit demands that the three companies a) are prohibited permanently to sell all their “infringing” equipment; b) recall all “infringing” equipment; c) destroy or deliver to Avante the “infringing” equipment; and d) award “infringement” damages to Avante including treble damages for "willful infringement". Sequoia Voting Systems, in particular, was sued for its Edge, Advantage, 400C, VeriVote Printer (VVPAT) and Insight machines (that is, for all of its products except one). The other two companies were sued for almost all of their products.

Smartmatic's continuing interests in Sequoia[edit]

In April 2008, competitor Hart InterCivic attempted a hostile takeover of Sequoia. Court documents unearthed at this time revealed that Smartmatic still retained some financial control over several aspects of Sequoia. At the time, Smartmatic held a $2 million note from SVS Holdings, Inc., the management team which purchased the company from Smartmatic. In accordance to the acquisition contract, Smartmatic also retains ownership of intellectual property rights for some of Sequoia's currently deployed election products in the United States, and holds the right to negotiate overseas non-compete agreements.

The CEO and President of Sequoia and SVS Holdings is Jack Blaine, a former Smartmatic executive. During a conference call with company employees, Blaine admitted that SVS/Sequoia did not control the intellectual property of some of its novel products, which belongs to Smartmatic. These arrangements were purportedly agreed upon under the scrutiny and approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) of the U.S. Treasury Department, which had been investigating whether there were any ties between Sequoia, Smartmatic, and the government of Venezuela. CFIUS dropped the investigation when Smartmatic agreed to divest Sequoia, in a deal whereby all of Sequoia's shares were sold off to SVS Holdings for an undisclosed price.

Among other bidders, Smartmatic and Sequoia were competitors for the contract to provide voting machines and services to the 2010 national elections in the Philippines,[11] one of the largest contracts ever in the voting technology industry. In the bidding process Sequoia was disqualified early, while Smartmatic was declared the winner.[12]

Sale to Dominion and further security issues[edit]

On June 4, 2010 Dominion, a previously little-known company engaged in Internet voting and manufacturing of optical scanners, acquired Sequoia Voting Systems.[13] WIRED has reported that two academic computer security experts hacked an AVC Edge Sequoia/Dominion electronic voting machine in the months before the 2010 congressional election. The voting program was replaced with a Pac-Man game. The machine was opened with a screwdriver without breaking any of the "tamper-evident" seals.[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.dominionvoting.com/images/pdfs/DominionAcquiresSequoiaFinal.pdf
  2. ^ "U.S. Voting Technology Leader Sequoia Voting Systems Announces New Corporate Ownership". Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc. 2007-11-08. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  3. ^ a b "Withdrawal of Approval of Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., WinEDS v 3.1.012/AVC Edge/Insight/Optech 400-C DRE & Optical Scan Voting System and Conditional Re-approval of Use of Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., WinEDS v 3.1.012/AVC Edge/Insight/Optech 400-C DRE & Optical Scan Voting System". California Secretary of State. 2007-08-03. Archived from the original on 2007-09-21. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  4. ^ a b c Matt Blaze, Arel Cordero, Sophie Engle, Chris Karlof, Naveen Sastry, Micah Sherr, Till Stegers, Ka-Ping Yee (2007-07-20). "Source Code Review of the Sequoia Voting System". California Secretary of State. Archived from the original on 2008-02-13. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  5. ^ Kim Zetter (2007-08-20). "Vendors - Sequoia Voting Systems Responsible for 2000 Presidential Debacle?". VoteTrustUSA. 
  6. ^ Voting Machines Giving Florida New Headache, New York Times, 10/13/2007
  7. ^ Ed Felten (2008-03-17). "Interesting e-mail by Sequoia". 
  8. ^ "E-Voting Firm Threatens Ed Felten If He Reviews Its E-Voting Machine". Techdirt. 2008-03-18. 
  9. ^ Cory Doctorow (2008-03-17). "Sequoia Voting Systems threatens Felten's Princeton security research team". BoingBoing. 
  10. ^ Dee Chisamera (2008-03-21). "Sequoia Voting Systems Admits To Hackers Attacking Their Website". eFluxMedia. 
  11. ^ Comelec disqualifies 2 more bidders for P11-billion automation contract The Philippine Star (May 06, 2009)
  12. ^ Comelec officially declares Smartmatic winning bidder The Daily Tribune, Philippines (June 10, 2009)
  13. ^ On Heels of Diebold/Premier Purchase, Canadian Firm Also Acquires Sequoia Brad Friedman | T Thruthout | Bradblog (21 June 2010)
  14. ^ Zetter, Kim (2010-08-24). "Touchscreen E-Voting Machine Reprogrammed to Play Pac-Man". WIRED. 

External links[edit]