An I-Team 8 Investigation
Excerpts from Interviews with MicroVote Executives
The following are excerpts from interviews with executives from MicroVote.
James F. Ries (Sr.) was a sales representative for the Automatic Voting Machine Co. out of Jamestown, N.Y., premier manufacturer of lever machines like those used in Marion County till recently. AVM went out of business just as they had developed an electronic voting machine.
Ries took his idea for “a better mousetrap” to Bill Carson of Carson Manufacturing, located in Marion County near the Glendale post office. MicroVote was born in 1982. The company’s headquarters is in Broadripple.
The senior Ries is chief executive officer of the company. His son, James M. Ries (Jr.), is President of MicroVote. Steve Shamo is a sales and customer service representative for Indiana. You can check out MicroVote’s Web site at http://www.MicroVote.com.
For a map of Indiana counties that use MicroVote equipment, click here.
I-Team: Who were your first customers?
James F. Ries (Sr.): Most of the lever machine counties that I'd sold lever machines to were interested in MicroVote. It was a better mousetrap.
I-Team: But these days voting systems like your push-button direct record electronic (DRE) machines are under intense scrutiny, especially when it comes to security.
James M. Ries (Jr.): Security is becoming a very, very sensitive topic from both manufacturing and developing of source code to local jurisdiction security. I think this year you'll see that our entire industry is going to be under the microscope.
I-Team: Especially when you have just a handful of companies on the receiving end of lots of money…
Ries Jr.: It's been a very small industry, mostly private companies operating the majority of the elections. With the advent of the Help America Vote Act and the several-billion-dollar subsidy that has been appropriated for our industry, you can see why these folks are starting to take this industry much more seriously than they did prior to 2000. Looking back four years ago, what have we done as an industry to increase the faith of the voter and instill the fact that every vote counts?
I-Team: The company most under the microscope has been Ohio-based Diebold. Does MicroVote welcome such scrutiny?
Ries Jr.: Diebold is the 800-pound gorilla. The benefit that came out of the Diebold study was increased scrutiny within the vending community: How do companies control internal source code, how do we release our firmware upgrades, how do we operate as a business? What has that done for the end user? Not a whole lot.
I-Team: Is there regulation of the industry? Aren’t there federal standards to ensure that voting systems are accurate, reliable and secure? Isn’t that why your equipment and software undergo federal qualification testing?
Bill Carson: Unfortunately the ITA (independent testing authority) has a limited scope in what they can test and check on the system. It is based on time and economics. For an independent test authority to absolutely, thoroughly test under all possible conditions that the device will operate properly they would have to spend, in my estimation, 10 times the amount of time and money as it took to develop it in the first place…. And the technology changes so rapidly, by the time they get done testing it, it’s obsolete.
I-Team: So what do ITAs not test?
Carson: (Picks up electrical cord.) UL says that this will not shock you and it will not catch fire. They don’t tell you that it actually works. That’s beyond the scope of UL testing. Absolutely nothing will you see in the FEC requirements that this (puts hand on DRE voting machine) has to work. It has to have these functions. But it doesn’t have to work.
I-Team: What about state certification testing?
Ries Jr.: We've been somewhat loosely monitored by the states. There's a lot of trust that the vendors are out for the best interest of the local jurisdictions. The states basically look at the federal qualification testing as being kind of the ultimate testing ground. As a vendor working with these independent testing authorities, they do a good job of following the test plans afforded to them by the vendors. They don't really go outside of those test plans. In the state of Indiana – and I'm not criticizing by any means – we just don't have the technical expertise to take these test result plans that the independent testing authorities provide them and really go through them in detail. Maybe it's just the leap of faith that the states feel that the federal testing authorities have done an adequate job and that they will adopt that product pursuant to state compliance.
I-Team: What about evaluation of equipment at the local level prior to a purchase? Do those buying or approving the purchase even know what questions to ask?
Ries Jr.: Local council, local commissioners typically don't get involved in the evaluation of equipment. And that's not a bad thing.
I-Team: Local jurisdictions conduct public tests of new voting equipment, but few members of the public actually attend. Why do you think that is?
Ries Jr.: I guess it's just a leap of faith and understanding that what we're doing is what we're presenting to the county. So there is a bit of uncertainty there. There has to be faith in their local election boards. It's one of those areas of a leap of faith. That you really do have to have a faith in your local jurisdiction, that they are conducting equitable elections in the best faith of the voters. The larger the jurisdiction, the more scrutiny should exist.
“GLITCHES” AND FAULTY EQUIPMENT
I-Team: Just last November, there was a “glitch” that occurred in Boone County, where equipment showed 144,000 votes were cast in a county with only 50,000 residents and only 19,000 registered voters. What happened?
Steve Shamo: In Boone County, the key to remember is that it did not take place with any of the tabulation software. It was a classic case of misinformation and basically it being blown up. I've answered this question to people calling on a national level. The bottom line is and the set up is, the cartridges are being returned to election center. They're being tabulated. In a secondary room there's a media presentation, which is a laptop secondary computer. It is not tabulating election results. At that point what's happening is the votes are being tabulated on Computer A -- which is fine. All the votes are turning out fine. Now in the media room we have a mask of the same election. So what we're doing, we're going to download the elections from disk. We can do it through the Internet if we choose to or in-house through their network, and send results to this media thing. We have a process called re-initialization, which is a safeguard. When you reinitialize election results, it zeroes out your election. You print a zero report before you read even your first absentee or your cartridge into the voting system. Well if you don't re-initialize both databases, you're bringing results in, okay, to a system that has not been reinitialized yet. So what does it do? It blows up on you. And it blows up in a ridiculous manner: 143,000 votes for every candidate.
I-Team: Election officials in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, claimed their new MicroVote DRE machines didn’t work properly in elections in 1994 and 1995. What happened?
Ries Jr.: Ninety percent of what we do is training and service to make that product functional to the voter. And without the cooperation with the local jurisdiction, it's very difficult to do.
I-Team: Montgomery County sued MicroVote, your partner Carson Manufacturing and your insurance company. You lost a million-dollar verdict. You appealed and lost again.
Ries Jr.: Our manufacturer settled out of court with the county. (He told us the voting machines from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, are working properly in counties throughout Indiana and North Carolina.)
I-Team: Owners of other voting machine companies have had partisan ties and have made political donations to candidates. Have either of you made donations to a political party or a candidate running for office?
Ries Jr.: You should be very cautious of aligning yourselves. Even though we're independent people outside of our business environment, this is a political arena.
Ries Sr.: I don't get involved in political donations. I don't think it's right in this industry to do it.
I-Team: We have records that show, Jim (Sr.), that you made political contributions to State Representative Kathy Richardson, a Republican who first began purchasing MicroVote equipment in 1990 when she was Hamilton County clerk. We understand she also serves as Hamilton County Election Administrator and plans to purchase more MicroVote equipment.
Ries Sr.: I've known Kathy forever. The purchase was there already. She's a long-time friend. Back when she was county clerk I knew her. And I don't hesitate if she asks or if her party asks me to donate to her re-election, I'd like to help her out.
(According to Federal Election Commission records, the senior Ries also made a $1,000 donation to Republican John R. Price’s 1997 campaign run for the U.S. Senate. Price was MicroVote’s attorney for the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, lawsuit and appeal.)
I-Team: Tell us about Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, a federal investigation and federal indictments against the county’s election administrator and MicroVote salesman Ed O’Day. He was convicted of bribery and kickbacks made over a seven-year period, according to stories in the Charlotte Observer.
Ries Jr.: Ed O'Day was an independent agent of MicroVote – not a direct employee but a manufacturer's representative for our product in North and South Carolina. He was convicted of bribing a public official, something we had no knowledge of, nor did we have any input. Unfortunately he's still out selling equipment to election officials, which surprised us all.
I-Team: What about Gary Greenhalgh, a former Federal Election Commission official who was your national sales director. You sued him in 1997. Why?
Ries Jr.: Gary Greenhalgh, on the other hand, was a direct employee. Trade secret violations there. Probably the most damaging, he was actually selling the equipment being released from Montgomery County to our customers on the side. And it violated his working contract with us that he was selling outside of MicroVote's jurisdiction.
I-Team: A Los Angeles Times news story says Greenhalgh told an audience in 1993 that, in writing bids for almost 30 government contracts over two years as national sales director for MicroVote, not one election director asked about protecting ballots from tampering or about how to audit vote counts – matters looming large in Florida. He said influence is more important than a quality product in his industry. How do you respond to that?
Ries Jr.: Influence can mean good selling skills. Influence doesn't have to mean bribery or kickbacks. He’s a bit of a loose cannon…
WILL YOUR VOTE COUNT?
I-Team: How does the voter know that his or her vote is counted correctly?
Ries Jr.: It's one of those areas of a leap of faith. That you really do have to have a faith in your local jurisdiction, that they are conducting equitable elections in the best faith of the voters. The security for the voter, once again, is the acceptance of good judgment by a local board. Quite frankly it's very difficult to convince somebody how do I know my vote counted.
I-Team: How do they know that when they voted for Candidate X that their vote for Candidate X was recorded?
Ries Jr.: Well, because of identity or lack of identity with records, there's really no way that I could prove to a voter, post tally, that their vote exactly counted the way that they voted it. Even in a paper-based system, that identity leaves the voter once that envelope is opened and the ballot is counted. There is no way to link that individual ballot back to that individual voter. And I understand some of the scrutiny towards the security and certainly the question asked, “How do I know my vote counts.” We do need to have some measure available to show them it does count.
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