March 25, 2004


Group that called electronic vote secure got makers' aid


By Linda K. Harris, Philadelphia Inquirer


The Election Center, which trains election workers and advises Congress and government agencies on election process issues, has taken donations from manufacturers of electronic voting machines even as it has issued strong statements supporting the security of the machines.


The Houston-based nonprofit organization bills itself as a nonpartisan group representing election officials from throughout the country.


Its executive director, R. Doug Lewis, confirmed this week that the center had taken donations from makers of electronic voting machines - Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. of Oakland, Calif., and Electronic Systems & Software Inc. of Omaha, Neb. In addition, donations came from "probably Diebold" Inc. of North Canton, Ohio, Lewis said.


The Sequoia donations came to light on the organization's latest 990 IRS filing, a copy of which was reviewed by The Inquirer. It inadvertently revealed donations of $10,000 per year from 1997 through 2000. The IRS usually removes such names before documents are made public.


Meanwhile, the Sequoia voting machines, which in the Philadelphia region are used in Montgomery, Gloucester and Burlington Counties, will be tested by Montgomery County officials today after two complaints were lodged about the machines in the November elections.


Lewis issued a report last year saying that "well-intentioned people, some of them even highly educated and respected, scare voters and public officials with claims that the voting equipment and/or its software can be manipulated to change the outcome of elections."


The report went on to say: "Do not be misled into believing that elections are reliant upon technology which can be manipulated... . It may be possible to do many things, but like time travel (which is theoretically possible), it is highly unlikely at this time."


Lewis said he did not think accepting donations from the manufacturers presented any conflict of interest or breach of ethics.


"I never approved a voting system anywhere in America," Lewis said. "The systems were approved by independent testing laboratories."


"We train a lot of election officials," he added. Lewis said no voting system could be totally protected. "What you look for is that people go to reasonable lengths to make sure that elections systems cannot be manipulated. We have said, and I think legitimately so, it is exceedingly difficult to try to manipulate an election and do so and remain undetected."


Alfie Charles, vice president of business development for Sequoia, said the company donated the money to further the work of the Election Center in its training of officials.


"I don't think the Election Center has ever favored or done anything to benefit one company over another, nor would anyone expect them to do that," Charles said.


Linda K. Harris, 215-854-4417 or

Copyright 2004 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.



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