City could withhold payment to voting machine maker

Ballot count continues

WLS By Andy Shaw


March 27, 2006 - The vote counting continues nearly a week after the primary election. Now there's growing disagreement about who should punish the company that manufactured the voting machines used in last week's balloting.


Fourteen-thousand votes still haven't been counted in Chicago, six days after the election, and the company that sold the new machines to the city at a total cost of $26 million will not be paid the final $16 million installment until experts figure out what went wrong and fix it. But this is all very complicated, so election officials probably won't look for a new company before the next round of elections in November.


"This is an embarrassment, a disgrace, and until we find out what caused all this, I don't think that this firm should be paid," said Ald. Ed Burke, finance committee chairman.


The chairman of the city council finance committee says the Chicago election board never should have bought its voting equipment from Sequoia, which is actually a subsidiary of a company in Venezuela where the president, Hugo Chavez, is engaged in a war of words with President Bush.


Alderman Ed Burke is comparing the situation to the Bush administration wanting a Middle Eastern company in Dubai to handle security in US ports.


"Aren't we at least entitled to know who owns the company? Maybe it is owned by Chavez, I don't know," said Burke.


"It was a privately owned company domiciled in Venezuela. We investigated it and found no improprieties with it at all," said Langdon Neal, Chicago election board chairman.


The chairman of the election board says the ownership of the company is less important than figuring out what went wrong with tabulating the vote totals election night. He agrees with Alderman Burke that Sequoia shouldn't be paid the last $16 million on its contract with the city until outside experts investigate the problems and they're fixed. at Sequoia's expense.


"If they ever want to be paid, they're going to have to do a better job," Neal said.


"We can't go through this in November, whatever happens. Either we change the voting machines or we keep the same system, we're going to have to educate the judges," said Ald. Bill Beavers, 7th Ward.


"We want to make sure that people feel comfortable with the integrity," said Ald. Manny Flores, 1st Ward.


The election board chairman says the machines are very accurate, but way too slow, because of the equipment, the software and the failures of the election judges to make it work, all of which can presumably be fixed.


Sequoia hasn't returned phone calls to comment. But Tuesday the election board is taking some remedial steps and the city council may do something on Wednesday about payment full disclosure and minority participation.


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