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A troubling trend in America’s ballot voting system

On election day in Canada, no matter where one votes in federal elections, the way ballots are cast is the same. Canadians step behind a privacy curtain to hand-mark a paper ballot by circling a choice. Once the voter emerges, election officials validate the ballot and return it to the voter who then puts it directly in a ballot box.

When polls close, the doors are locked. No one can enter or leave until all votes are hand-counted by paid poll workers who have been trained, vetted and apply the same standard nationwide. The result? Canadian elections are drama-free with people expressing strong confidence in the results.

Canadian officials have studied switching to electronic vote-counting systems, focusing on reliability, cost and confidence in the results.

Ballot-marking devices produce ballots that do not necessarily record the vote expressed by the voter when they enter their selections on the touchscreen.

In 2016, a House of Commons Special Committee on Election Reform reviewed online voting for Canada's federal elections. In 2017, the committee recommended against electronic voting machines. In subsequent reviews of technology, Elections Canada definitively stated their intent to continue using paper ballots, marked and counted by hand:

"Elections Canada has no plans to introduce electronic casting or counting of votes. Polling places will continue using paper ballots, marked and counted by hand."

Canada is not alone in establishing a coordinated national approach free of electronic technology. According to ACE Electoral Knowledge Network 209 of the 227 countries they studied cast their votes by manually marking ballots.

Australia, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, among others, all use paper ballots and hand counting.

Nor was Canada alone in conducting extensive research into vote casting and counting technologies. Most of the other countries also conducted reviews before deciding to continue with paper. Compared to its allies, the United States is an outlier.


Source: ACE Electoral Knowledge Network

A Trusted System

Canada's system is straightforward, safe and passes a critical test – there are no reports of vote flipping, disappearing votes, confusing ballots, illogical outcomes or outcries of fraud.

Some local elections have adopted technology into their voting process. For example, Ontario recently introduced technology, but for local elections such as picking a school board or a local representative. For federal elections Canadian officials recently studied switching to electronic vote-counting systems, focusing on reliability, cost and confidence in the results, but chose to keep paper ballots.

Like America, Canada has voter suppression, but there are no issues with the paper ballot process. Canada's hand-marked and hand-counted paper system instills confidence that elections are free and fair.

"Having an agency that is independent from the elected government, with a chief electoral officer who is appointed by Parliament as a whole, we are nonpartisan in everything that we do," said Natasha Gauthier, a spokesperson for Elections Canada. "We are removed from that politicization of the voting system that we see in the U.S."

Canada's different system of national government lends itself to a much simpler ballot and much simpler vote counting. Their parliamentary system requires them to cast a vote for only one candidate, instead of our country with pages of different candidates at multiple levels of government, bond issues and referendums. Canadians only have one bubble to mark on their ballot in their federal election.

In a growing number of American jurisdictions, so-called paper ballots are being adopted. But in no way does the American approach resemble Canada's hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballot voting. Indeed, it doesn't truly rely on paper. The American trend is to rely on ballot marking devices (BMDs), a hybrid technology-paper approach.

Machine and Paper

The hybrid approach uses a paper ballot that is generated, scanned and counted by machines.

Verified Voting, a bipartisan and nonprofit group organized by ballot experts found that almost 70% of the U.S. jurisdictions rely primarily on hand-marked paper ballots.

However, there's an asterisk. That 70% figure included paper ballots created through a BMD. Many BMDs generate paper ballots which are then hand-marked using technology. Vote machinery vendors push what they describe as voter-verified paper ballot products in which voters use a touch screen to create their paper ballots. The majority of states now rely on BMDs.

After making their selection on a touch screen, voters receive for verification a paper ballot showing their selection. The concept is that voters self-verify their vote by examining the paper ballot the machine generates before it is counted by another machine. This complicated process creates opportunities for error, mistakenly or intentionally, especially if voters do not scrutinize the paper ballot for accuracy. And it assumes the vote-counting software will accurately capture the choice on the paper ballot, a process that will not be observed by the voter.

In Pennsylvania's Northampton County, near Allentown and 75 minutes north of Philadelphia, officials selected equipment from ES&S, the nation's largest manufacturer of voting machines. It's a secretive company founded by Republicans, which we examined here and here.

Problems with ES&S Machines

After the 2016 election, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and four others sued in Pennsylvania alleging that the ES&S machinery was vulnerable to hacking and difficult to audit. The case was settled in late 2018 with an agreement that all 67 Pennsylvania counties would buy new voting machines on which votes are recorded on paper and a voter-verifiable record of each vote was produced.

Northampton County chose to purchase $2.8 million worth of new voting equipment from ES&S, the largest vendor, including its ExpressVote XL BMD. However, on rollout in 2019 elections, the county ran into major problems with their new ES&S ExpressVote machines.

Abe Kassis, a Democratic Party judicial candidate, complained that he knew people who voted for him in one precinct where ES&S showed he got no votes. That prompted an inquiry into the integrity of the vote-counting process. The discrepancy between votes cast and counted was not trivial, but huge.

In December 2019, ES&S held a Facebook live press conference taking full responsibility for the issues in Northampton. The company acknowledged problems and blamed human error by ES&S employees, but insisted the machines worked just fine when properly operated.

Adam Carbullido, ES&S senior vice president of product development, said. "First and foremost, on behalf of my company, I apologize to Northampton County. If not for mistakes made by ES&S staff these issues all could have been avoided."

Wrong Machine Votes

ES&S said it found that the candidates shown on the voter-verified paper ballot did not match with the records of the vote-counting equipment.

Voters saw their vote on the touch screen and confirmed it. Then the machine generates a paper ballot to confirm and assure voters of the official record of their ballot. However, despite double-checking and verifying, the system did not then count their vote for the candidate chosen on the voter-verifiable paper record.

So, the ES&S system instilled confidence that people cast their ballots as intended, and then the vote-counting software disregarded their votes, which voters would have no way of detecting except for anomalies like the one reported by Kassis, the judicial candidate.

ES&S's Carbullido confirmed this, saying: "The ballot showed correctly on the screen and printed correctly on the paper ballots, but the votes were not attributed to the proper candidates."

'Human Error'

Carbullido acknowledged that the issues hadn't been caught during pre-election testing. "I want to make clear that this was human error, and ES&S takes full accountability.

"The issue should have been identified by ES&S staff prior to the election and during pre-election testing.

"Had we scrutinized the results during that process better, had ES&S staff advised the county better on how to do that, it would have been caught."

In the end, ballots were hand-counted. Kassis, the Democratic candidate for judge, appeared to lose with only 164 votes when ES&S machines did the counting. The hand count revealed he had actually received 26,142 votes, winning the election.

Righting this wrong was possible only because paper ballots existed and could be checked with a hand count. The Northampton debacle establishes the fears of many election integrity advocates are legitimate and illustrates the value of audits.

Experts Issue Warnings

In December 2019, computer scientists Andrew Appel of Princeton University and Richard DeMillo of Georgia Tech along with statistics theorist Philip B. Stark of the University of California, Berkley, produced a paper titled "Ballot-Marking Devices (BMD's) Cannot Assure the Will of the Voters." It reviewed BMDs including ES&S's ExpressVote and ExpressVote XL. The professors concluded: "Ballot-Marking Devices produce ballots that do not necessarily record the vote expressed by the voter when they enter their selections on the touchscreen."

This followed a similar observation after an examination of ES&S ExpressVote equipment done as part of Texas's certification procedures. Of BMD generated paper ballots, James Sneeringer, Ph.D., as a designee of the attorney general, wrote in a 2018 report: "I want to express my opinion that the paper ballot does not actually increase the accuracy or security of a voting system, although I acknowledge that many voters feel more secure when there is a paper record, and voter confidence is very important."

He was more specific about his concerns in a 2019 report produced for the Texas secretary of state writing: "I cannot think of a circumstance where I would advise a Texas jurisdiction to buy ExpressVote XLs, yet I am loath to deny certification or to try to write a complex condition to attach to certification."

This contrasts with Sneeringer's 2017 Texas report which found a "bridge" between ES&S systems was "acceptable."

Despite these statements by experts, in March 2019 the secretary of state of Texas certified both ExpressVote and ExpressVoteXL.

Texas and Pennsylvania both used either the ES&S ExpressVote or ExpressVote XL in the 2020 elections in some of their counties.

Kentucky Uses ExpressVote

DCReport analyzed the election results in Mitch McConnell's Kentucky. Our analysis was based on information from the Kentucky State Board of Elections website. They listed the ES&S voting machines used in Kentucky as a model called the iVotronic.

At some point after our Dec. 19 article, the list of ES&S equipment that had been used in the 2020 election was changed on the Kentucky government website. Kentucky now listed the equipment they used as made by ES&S but switched the specific product listed to ExpressVote.

DCReport verified with Jared Dearing, executive director of Kentucky Board of Elections, that the website had been updated, and that ES&S ExpressVote models were used in the 2020 General Election. Dearing stressed, "We recently updated our equipment to provide a voter-verified paper ballot system."

Given expert concerns about the ability to hack the ES&S ExpressVote, Kentucky's recent purchase of this equipment seems curious.

Dearing told a Kentucky House budget subcommittee that a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official meets with the Kentucky elections board every week to go over every attempt to break into Kentucky's system, which gives him "sleepless nights."

"We are routinely scanned by Venezuela, by North Korea, by Russia on a regular basis," Dearing said. "This is not something that is in the past, that happened in 2016. It happens on a weekly basis."

Dearing told this to the subcommittee in February 2020, months after the false results produced by ES&S equipment in Pennsylvania's Northampton County.

Foreign Snooping

Given that bad actors worldwide are scanning Kentucky's electronic elections systems, the choice of upgrading approximately 20% of Kentucky's voting machines to the ES&S ExpressVote seems ill-suited at best. DCReport's recent article about Texas and the bug they reported in their ES&S equipment adds to the concerns about their choice.

As part of their report, professors Appel, DeMillo and Stark warned that "hacking, bugs, and configuration errors can cause the BMDs to print votes that differ from what the voter entered and verified electronically."

They explained further, "When computers are used to record votes, the original transaction (the voter's expression of the votes) is not documented in a verifiable way. When pen-and-paper is used to record the vote, the original expression of the vote is documented in a verifiable way (if a demonstrably secure chain of custody of the paper ballots is maintained)."

Assurances by the Kentucky State Board of Elections that they use voter-verified paper ballots are intended to instill confidence. Instead, they may provide a false sense of security. On top of that, consider Kentucky has provided very little in the way of verifying the voting machines accurately counted ballots in the 2020 election.

The results that DCReport broke down in Breathitt, Elliott and Wolfe counties in Kentucky are still supported only by anecdotal evidence. But the experience in Northampton and the findings by the professors, among others, argue strongly for universal hand counts and an independent inquiry into the integrity of the voting machines used in Kentucky and other states.

'Gold Standard'

Ion Sancho, an internationally recognized elections expert who was featured prominently in HBO documentaries on cyber-attacks on American elections in both 2006 and 2020, said, "Hand-marked paper ballots are the gold standard' of election security — provided there's an audit system to verify, afterward, that the machine totals match what the voters actually marked on ballots."

Kentucky did not use hand-marked ballots and only did limited audits in 2020. Out of Kentucky's 120 counties, only six were randomly audited. None of the three counties DCReport focused on was audited.

As Sancho points out, mandated audits are a critical step. While Kentucky updated their machines to have an auditable paper trail, that does nothing to ensure election integrity without actual audits of every voting precinct.

Vendors over Voters?

The concept that more costly sophisticated technological solutions will provide safer and more secure elections than human counted hand-marked ballots is a myth if we don't apply the technology effectively.

Sancho further notes, "We need to look at the outcomes we need to achieve. You want to safeguard the process, not the product, to ensure safe and secure elections." In our eagerness to embrace technology are we paying enough attention to securing the voters' fundamental Constitutional right to have their ballots counted as cast?"

Looking at other countries, if we shift our approach from technology to paper, we won't be alone. Secure Our Vote found that 15 countries had either tried electronic voting and switched back to paper by 2018, or like Canada explored electronic voting but decided to stick with paper.

Hand-marked paper ballots are distinct from BMD paper ballots. But also, the overall approach and the process differ.

The crucial distinction is this: Canada puts trust in people who are trained, paid, vetted and locked in a room together to count the votes with ballots that can be recounted if necessary.

America puts trust in technology vendors whose self-interests are served by assuring election officials that the election went well, all the while maximizing their profits, and providing very little transparency for Americans to be able to audit fully audit elections.

Texas has its own voting machine issues

Texas has 254 counties. Each accepts delivery of computerized vote-counting equipment, trusting that it properly counts votes. It's the Texas Secretary of State who bears responsibility for reliability and for checking that built-in security features safeguard the integrity of the software.

In February 2020, Texas Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughes received a disturbing report about the ES&S election equipment Texas used in some counties. She had assigned Brian Mechler, an expert in electronic data communications systems, to certify the equipment.

"There were a few issues with the hash verification procedure," Mechler wrote of equipment from the nation's largest vote-counting software firm, a secretive Nebraska outfit reincorporated as ES&S in 1997.

Texas trusted ES&S to act with scrupulous integrity, catch any simple mistakes as well as big ones, and ferret out any intrusions by third parties.

Mechler's report on verification issues was an understatement. Hash verification ensures that a program has not been tampered with. It is a critical element in ensuring that the proprietary software counts all votes correctly. With the hash verification procedure having issues, the software could be set, for example, to count every 27th vote for one candidate as a vote for their opponent, without the software detecting or recording it was modified in this way.

Hash verification tracks digital fingerprints to monitor any modifications to the software from the time it leaves the vendor to when ballots are cast and counted. If the hash verification procedure is not operating properly, the ability to detect changes, and ensure the integrity of your software is compromised.

Trump Hasn't Attacked ES&S

Significantly, Donald Trump has not attacked ES&S, whose machines counted ballots in counties where Trump and Republicans did unexpectedly well.

ES&S was originally started more than three decades ago by conservative Republicans under the name American Information Systems (AIS), but its current ownership is something the company has refused to discuss with Democratic lawmakers in Washington or DCReport.

Seven months after his initial report, Mechler issued a new detailed and disturbing report. Mechler found that the hash verification issues he had identified were still a major problem.

His report came in late September—just 44 days before the presidential election, a tight window to fix problems that had lingered unresolved for months, especially in a state as diverse, and with as many counties, as the Lone Star state. (In contrast, California, the largest state, has just 58 counties, about one-fifth of the Texas count.)

Multiple Security Issues

Mechler reported the ES&S software suffers from "multiple issues with its prescribed hash verification procedures."

More troubling was this: "ES&S personnel have performed the hash verification process instead of their customers."

The lack of independent verification meant Texas trusted ES&S to act with scrupulous integrity, catch any simple mistakes as well as big ones, and ferret out any intrusions by third parties. Putting so much faith in the vendor, given its own self-interest, was bad policy, Mechler warned in another understatement.

"Jurisdictions should always perform this process themselves. To have the vendor perform a required component of acceptance testing creates, at best, a conflict of interest," Mechler wrote.

And, lest anyone doubt the depth of the vote-counting integrity problems, Mechler wrote this about a specific bug in the ES&S software: "It is my opinion that this bug (in addition to the overall process) indicates that ES&S has not developed their hash verification process with sufficient care, quality assurance, and concern for usability."

Worse as the Election Loomed

Most disturbing of all in Mechler's report was the trend in how issues had been handled since his February report. Instead of fixing problems and creating a testable verification system, he wrote that things were getting worse.

"The ES&S hash verification process has been a growing issue of concern over the past few certification exams" he warned. "In this exam, their customer relations with regard to this process have also become a concern. At this point, these issues have been communicated in detail to ES&S. I will not recommend certification of future ES&S releases unless they make substantial improvements to the ease-of-use, reliability, and traceability of their hash verification process." (Emphasis in the original.)

Incredibly, the examiner certified the machines despite his concerns. Mechler did declare that if not fixed by the next exam, then he would refuse certification. Considering the next exam would not occur until after the 2020 elections, that's like taking a new aircraft carrier out for trial runs despite indications it may tip over and sink in heavy seas.

Report Released—After the Election

To show that her office was being transparent about vote-counting software and hardware integrity, Sec. of State Hughes posted the September report on the state's website for the public to view. But as election security activist Jennifer Cohn noted on Dec. 9, it was posted five weeks after the election.

"Texas has some fine nerve complaining about election security. What about the 'bug' discovered in the state's ES&S machines in September 2020?!"

Disinformation Campaign

Mechler's scathing report came nine months after Texas declined to certify a competing vendor's vote-counting products. That action involved the company Team Trump has repeatedly attacked—Dominion Voting Systems. The January 2020 decertification was the third time Texas had rejected Dominion because state officials consider serious flaws in its products.

Why would Texas apply such different standards to these two companies, one that Trump and his surrogates relentlessly attack as unfair to him, and another on which Trump has been silent?

On Fox Business News's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Trump's legal team congratulated Texas for its foresight in rejecting Dominion.

[caption id="attachment_22041" align="aligncenter" width="684"] The map at right shows Texas counties with various ES&S voting systems. The map at left shows the county-by-county results for the 2020 presidential election. (Verified Voting and NYTimes)[/caption]

Rudy Giuliani applauded Texas for decertifying Dominion. He also harshly criticized Georgia for shifting from ES&S to Dominion. Giuliani wrongly claimed that "the lobbyist for Dominion was the former chief of staff for the governor." Not exactly. Giuliani may have been referring to Gov. Brian Kemp's chief of staff when Kemp was secretary of state, without revealing that the member of staff hadn't been in that position since 2015, years before Georgia switched to Dominion in 2019.

More significantly, Giuliani failed to note that Charles Harper, Gov. Kemp's current deputy chief of staff, had been registered to lobby for ES&S during the gubernatorial race in which Kemp beat Stacey Abrams. Those 2018 votes were counted using ES&S equipment. Harper was still Kemp's deputy in March 2019 when, because of his conflict of interest, Democrats successfully fought Kemp's plans to buy new ES&S equipment.

Dominion Files $1 Billion Suit

Giuliani's disinformation campaign prompted Dominion to file suit on Friday against Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for more than $1.3 billion in damages. Dominion has also threatened to sue Giuliani and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone for what it says is calculated lying about the company to advance Trump's baseless claims that he won in a landslide.

Another voting machine software company, Smartmatic, threatened to sue Fox News, including hosts Lou Dobbs and Judge Jeanine Pirro, as well as far-right propaganda outlets OANN and NewsMax. Smartmatic says all of them made maliciously false statements that damaged the company.

The litigation threats by Dominion and Smartmatic have raised concerns that they could deter serious journalism about how votes are counted.

More than 90% of votes are counted by the machines of three vendors: industry leader ES&S, Dominion, and Hart InterCivic. While Hughes was refusing to certify Dominion in Texas, she ignored warnings and historical issues related to the other two vote-counting vendors, which Texas also relied on.

Vendors over Voters?

The issue: Did Hughes deliberately put the interests of vendors over voters? And why did she ignore alarm bells?

As DCReport told readers on Dec. 31, ES&S lobbyists work closely with state and local elections officials. Considering Hughes herself was previously found to be working closely with other lobbyists on legislation that raises another issue: how Hughes' affinity for lobbyists put the integrity of Texas elections in question.

Her lapses in ensuring cybersecurity come in a state where Republicans have pursued aggressive voter suppression techniques for decades.

ES&S was not the only vote-counting firm with a troubling history in Texas. In 2018, counties deployed hundreds of aging Hart machines that confused voters, which led to accusations of illegal vote flipping in the hotly contested Senate race between the vociferously anti-democratic Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and his popular Democratic opponent Beto O'Rourke.

The Texas Democratic Party called the issue "a malfunction" and asserted that it caused Democrats to inadvertently vote for Cruz—who won the election by just 1.6 percentage points among nearly 8.4 million votes.

Both ES&S and Hart machines are still being used to count votes throughout Texas.

Voting machine company behind so many surprise wins this year raises some questions

After initially focusing on the surprisingly lopsided results of the senatorial election in Kentucky, DCReport broadened our scope to look at the electronic vote-counting software and electronic voting systems that we rely on to tally our votes. This prompted us to raise questions about Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S), America's largest voting machine company. What we found was a revolving door between government officials and ES&S.

Voting results in three states that saw surprising majorities by vulnerable incumbent Republican senators—Maine, North Carolina and South Carolina—were almost all tabulated on ES&S machines.

Trump and his inept legal team have barely mentioned ES&S, focusing almost exclusively on Dominion Voting Systems.

Rudy Giuliani, Sydney Powell and Fox hosts have been making such bold and naked claims against the ES&S competitors, without any substance or evidence, that Fox News, NewsMax and OAN have all been threatened with litigation unless they fully retract their claims and correct a number of egregious factual errors.

Team Trump has been so vigorous in going after Dominion that it prompted us to look into how ES&S operates. What we have found so far is far from comforting.

  • Owned by a private equity firm, ES&S has been elusive about identifying the people in its ownership.
  • A number of ES&S executives and lobbyists have ties to top GOP election officials and politicians.
  • The ES&S executive in charge of the security previously worked in the Trump administration as a government executive at Health and Human Services before leaving under a cloud.
  • Forty of the 50 states use ES&S to cast & count some of their votes.
  • Of the 25 states Trump won, all but 3 either partially or fully relied on ES&S machines. The states where Trump won that didn't use ES&S machines were Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Alaska.
Counties that used ES&S equipment in the 2020 elections. (Verified Voting)

Concerns about the reliability of vote-counting software are not new, dating back to the 1980s. Having the ability to audit votes, and making sure ballots are counted properly, has long been a major concern of computer scientists, politicians and election officials.

In December 2019, Democratic lawmakers sought answers from those top three voting machine vendors which "facilitate voting for over 90% of all eligible voters in the United States."

Three separate letters were sent to the private equity firms who "reportedly own or control each of these vendors, with very limited 'information available in the public domain about their operations and financial performance.' "

Elections at Risk

In the second letter, addressed directly to the McCarthy Group, the private equity firm that owns ES&S, lawmakers wrote that "voting machines are reportedly falling apart across the country, as vendors neglect to innovate and improve important voting systems, putting our elections at avoidable and increased risk."

In requesting details about the ownership of ES&S, the lawmakers specifically noted "we are particularly concerned that secretive and 'trouble-plagued companies,' owned by private equity firms and responsible for manufacturing and maintaining voting machines and other election administration equipment, 'have long skimped on security in favor of convenience,' leaving voting systems across the country 'prone to security problems."

DCReport placed numerous calls and emails to ES&S at its headquarters on John Galt Boulevard in Omaha. Only once was the phone answered by someone who would not put us through saying "they are not going to be able to talk to you." DCReport was directed to ES&S's website. DCReport submitted the form repeatedly but got no reply.

Understanding the Software

Our democracy now relies on private companies, which build proprietary electronic systems, to reliably count our votes. It seems reasonable, if not crucial, to understand who is behind these companies as a standard to ensure election integrity. Without such knowledge, we run the risk that zealots, or investors with a financial stake in who wins elections, or those susceptible to bribery, have an incentive to use subtle software programming techniques to deliberately miscount votes to guarantee an outcome. In close elections, software code that invalidates or miscounts a mere sliver of ballots can change the outcome.

One of our concerns is ES&S providing junkets and gratuities to election officials, as uncovered in June 2018 by McClatchy newspapers. For at least 11 years, the voting equipment and software company curried favor with election officials by paying for trips to Las Vegas, tickets to shows and gifts.

"As many as a dozen election officials" attended a meeting in Las Vegas, with a number of them accepting airfare, lodging, and meals, McClatchy reported. A company spokeswoman told McClatchy that the junkets were "immensely valuable in providing customer feedback. One of our key results is customer satisfaction, and this is how we achieve that."

Marci Andino, the current executive director of the South Carolina State Election Commission, received more than $19,000 worth of flights, hotels and meals from ES&S since 2009, according to South Carolina Ethics Commission disclosure forms.

Andino's influence extends beyond the Palmetto State. She is also a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's Standards Board and has testified on election issues. She is a former President of the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED). To have an election official tied to a voting company creates concerns about conflicts.

Executives with Political Ties

DCReport also looked into the careers of some key ES&S executives. What we found is concerning.

Kathy Rogers, ES&S's senior vice president for government affairs, landed at ES&S after controversy over her work as a Georgia state elections official. She opposed legislation trying to ensure vote counts could be verified.

In 2019, The New Yorker wrote about her actions in "How Voting-Machine Lobbyists Undermine the Democratic Process."

"In 2006, a bill requiring a verifiable paper record of each ballot, introduced in the Georgia legislature at the urging of election-integrity advocates, failed after the state's elections director, Kathy Rogers, opposed it," the magazine reported.

Georgia used ES&S machines in 2018 but now relies on Dominion equipment.

Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial race is noteworthy because it was overseen by Brian Kemp, who was then in charge of Georgia elections as secretary of state. That year, Kemp also ran for governor while overseeing his own election, a conflict of interest that he dismissed.

Kemp won a narrow victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams, but only after his office blocked 53,000 voter registration applications using a "strict" name matching protocol comparing state records to voter registration forms.

Kemp's Conflicts

Registrations were tossed if, for example, a person used a first name, middle initial and last name, on one form, but then used all three names in full on another. This invalidated a huge number of voter registration applications under Kemp's policy.

After Kemp won, a federal judge declared that Georgia had to implement a completely new voting system in time for the 2020 elections, replacing what the judge called "unsecure, unreliable and grossly outdated technology." Kemp tried to keep using the ES&S equipment for future elections, prompting Peach State Democrats to assert cronyism in the Kemp administration.

In January 2019, the Georgia Democratic Party challenged the integrity of voting machines that did not create an auditable paper trial, a policy he pursued through the creation of the Secure, Accessible & Fair Election or SAFE Commission.

The Democrats demanded a delay on recommendations for a new voting system "following the discovery that a leading vendor under consideration, whose machines are currently being investigated in a lawsuit due to errors in the 2018 election, has deep connections to Brian Kemp's office." That vendor was ES&S. The deep ties were due to Kemp having hired a longtime associate who was a registered lobbyist for ES&S.

As Politico characterized it at the time: "Georgia likely to plow ahead with buying insecure voting machines." It also reported that "Critics argued that the bill appeared to be written with one vendor in mind: the voting technology giant Election Systems & Software, whose former top lobbyist, is now Kemp's deputy chief of staff."

How many other states are conducting elections on "grossly outdated" or otherwise unreliable ES&S technology in 2018 and in 2020? This is an issue we are still investigating.

In Georgia, it was Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who succeeded Kemp as the elections overseer, who announced Dominion Voting Systems as the new elections vendor.

A Clean Election

The most recent Georgia election seems to be the first election in recent Georgian history not marred by voting-machine controversy other than Trump's nakedly false claims of vote stealing and corruption aimed at Republican Raffensperger.

The 2020 voting took place on a new system with an auditable paper ballot system. Three recounts, including an audit requiring "roughly 5 million votes in that contest to be recounted by hand" and as Secretary of State Raffensperger stated, showed results as close as imaginable.

"We have now counted legally cast ballots three times, and the results remain unchanged," Raffensperger said. Furthermore, a Judge declared Trump's legal team produced "precious little proof" in their pleadings.

ES&S's revolving door policy means its lobbyists taking top government official positions as well as government political appointees becoming ES&S executives.

One of these is Chris Wlaschin, who left the Trump Administration in March 2018. He was the chief information security official in the Health & Human Services Department. A few weeks later he landed at ES&S as "its new vice president of systems security responsible for the company's security efforts."


Wlaschin abruptly left the Trump administration after HHS Secretary Alex Azar received a letter from a lawyer representing two HHS executives. The letter asserted that Wlaschin had improperly removed the pair and cited an eye-popping false claim Wlaschin used to justify disciplinary action.

"Mr. Wlaschin has stated that my clients were removed from their positions in order to protect an ongoing OIG investigation," wrote lawyer I. Charles McCullough, a former Inspector General for the National Security Community.

"You can, therefore, imagine the shock and surprise of my clients when they were both recently advised, unequivocally and categorically, by senior investigators from the HHS OIG, that neither of them are currently or were at any time in the past under investigation" by the inspector general's office, McCullough wrote.

The letter was dated March 12, 2018. Wlaschin's resume says he joined ES&S the next month.

The integrity of voting systems, and especially the ability to audit vote counts, has been the subject of public debate for more than four decades. But most of the recent attention has been focused on one company, Dominion Voting Systems, most recently because of frivolous lawsuits filed by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell and others. But is that simply a distraction.

We think the issue of who counts our votes, how they are counted, and what ties the companies selling these systems have to politicians deserves more attention. Politicians who must win elections, in order to wield power, must not be able to exert influence on the companies we rely on to tally our votes. We need serious scrutiny over our elections so we can be assured that they represent the will of the people, not of the politicians themselves, and the companies they hire to process our ballots.

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