Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hanging Chads 2000 Revisited by Dan Rather Report

Dan Rather did an hour long report, The Trouble With Touch Screens, for HDnet last week.

The first part exposed shoddy touch screen machines built in the Phillipines by ES&S. Thousands of these machines were produced using cheap parts in sweatshop conditions by workers who were paid $2.50 per day. Quality control consisted of shaking some (not all) machines to see if anything rattled.

Watch the video, or read the transcript for full details.

The last part put the spotlight on Sequoia Pacific, the company that produced the punch cards used in the 2000 presidential election. We all remember the hanging chads, and thousands of ballots in Palm Beach County alone that registered overvotes or no vote at all for the presidential candidate. Palm Beach County traditionally is a Democratic stronghold.

...some of the best engineering minds in the country, at IBM, ...perfected the old Votomatic punch card system decades ago. Those punch cards, when they had been used by IBM for data processing, had been precise enough to help land a man on the moon. That's how reliable they were.

But by 2000, in an avalanche of hanging and falling chads, the punch card voting system was proclaimed to be "unreliable", old hat, out with the old and in with the new. Yet seven years and billions of dollars later, the public, especially in Florida, the public is clamoring for paper ballots again.

Rather interviews seven former employees of Sequoia Pacific with 171 years combined experience working for the company. They spoke with pride about the quality of punch card ballots their plant had produced over the years, and the company's about face in 1999 when producing punch cards for the 2000 election.

The company abandoned former suppliers of archival quality paper for a new supplier, and sub-standard rolls of paper, rejected by the plants quality control, were somehow ok'ed by upper management and used for those ballots.

To add to the insult of the inferior quality paper, E. Washington, a pressman at Sequoia for 26 years, relates that he was ordered to change the specifications for the cards bound for Palm Beach County, because they would "grow" in the Florida humidity...

E. Washington: We were told to run those cards short because they would grow by the time they got to Florida in the humidity.

Dan Rather: Running short didn't mean the cards were actually shorter. It simply means lowering, on the face of the ballot, the position of the chads. So the orders were for the ballots going to Palm Beach, don't make them meet the normal specifications?

E. Washington: Right. Because they would grow and if we met the normal specifications they would grow outside the specifications because of the humidity.

Dan Rather: Was this unusual?

E. Washington: Yep

Dan Rather: Were you surprised by it?

E. Washington: Oh yeah, I questioned it, and I even had the plant manager sign it. Because I was having arguments with quality control about the size. And so I said, 'The only way I am going to run it is if Brian comes out here and signs it.' He came out, he signed the 'okay' card to run 'em.

Dan Rather: Let me get this straight. You said, 'You are asking me to turn out a product that doesn't mean our usual specifications. To be sent specifically to Palm Beach, Florida'

E. Washington: Right

One employee speculates that Sequoia purposely produced faulty punch cards to give a jump start to sales of the touch screen machines, which so far had received a lukewarm reception.

Greg Smith: My own personal opinion was the touch screen voting system wasn't getting off the ground like that they, like they would hope. And because they weren't having any problems with paper ballots. So, I feel like they, deliberately did all this to have problems with the paper ballots so the electronically voting systems would get off the ground, and which it did in a big way.

Perhaps the company's greed was a factor in the failure of punch cards in Florida 2000. But given that the final "count" had Bush winning Florida by around 600 votes, it seems that something other motive is lurking in the shadows.

Management and employees involved in the production of these faulty ballots should be questioned under oath to determine exactly what happened. Our right to vote, and to have that vote counted is the foundation of this democracy. I, for one, would like to be reassured that when I step into the ballot box, my vote is counted. I'm sure millions of other voters feel the same.

Source: The Brad Blog

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