Vote Trust USA

Does ES&S Really Want to Sell the AutoMARK Machines?
by John Gideon*
Article edited on 25 May 2005 at 4:15PM PDT

The AutoMARK, developed by AutoMARK Technical Services (ATS) is a computerized ballot-marking device. The voter makes selections using a touch screen, then the system marks a ballot with those choices. That ballot is then either read by a precinct based optical scan machine or deposited into a ballot box and read later by a central count optical scan machine or by hand.


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ATS describes the system as:

A ballot marking system designed to provide privacy and accessibility to voters who are blind, vision-impaired, or have a disability or condition that would make it difficult or impossible to mark a ballot in the usual way. In addition, it provides language assistance to voters who are more comfortable speaking an alternative language or who have reading difficulties. The AutoMark voter assist terminal has been developed with input from election authorities and disability organizations, and meets all of the requirements of "The Help America Vote Act of 2002."

Election directors and private citizens who are concerned about trusting electronic ballots consider the AutoMARK highly preferable to electronic voting machines, even those that provide a voter-verifiable paper record of the vote. Many prefer it because it offers a cost-effective way to comply with federal laws. As a result, many counties across the country have been eagerly awaiting the federal qualification of the AutoMARK. The system just completed testing successfully and qualification is imminent.

Election Systems and Software (ES&S) presently produces only Direct Recording Electrical (DRE) voting systems and optical scan voting systems. They have no system that completely satisfies all of the HAVA accessibility requirements and provides a voter verified paper ballot as required in some states. The AutoMARK voting system satisfies the accessibility requirements and provides a paper ballot.

In March of 2004, Elections Systems and Software (ES&S) signed a marketing agreement with AutoMARK Technical Services (ATS) to be the sole purveyor of the AutoMARK voting machine. ATS can market the system, but pricing and contracts are all handled by ES&S. When ES&S announced the agreement, Aldo Tesi, ES&S president and CEO said, "we recognize the incredible responsibility we have in supporting the democratic process and ensuring it is open and accessible to all voters."

A few months later, when ES&S representative Mike Devereaux praised the AutoMARK over touch screens, it appeared that ES&S had partnered with ATS in order to take advantage of the growing demand for paper ballots. The company's subsequent business decisions seem to say otherwise.

Some of the business practices of ES&S suggest that the company's intent is to minimize sales, rather than take advantage of the high customer interest in the AutoMARK. The information presented in this article shows that they are refusing to demo the machine to large customers, decreasing the commissions of their sales staff when the product sold is the AutoMARK, stifling publicity about the product, and quoting higher prices to larger customers. Could they be holding down the sales of the AutoMARK in order to sell more of their high-priced electronic voting systems, in spite of those systems' poor performance record?

In February of 2005, Bo Lipari of New York Verified Voting asked ATS to bring a complete voting system (AutoMARK touch screen and an ES&S precinct based optical scan machine) to New York so the state legislators could look at the system in an informal setting and see how it operates. ATS brought the system and set it up for the legislators in Albany.

Unfortunately, a lobbyist for ES&S happened to walk by the demonstration and almost immediately told the ATS representatives to remove the equipment. According to a source close to the issue, a protracted discussion between ES&S representatives and ATS ensued in which ES&S refused to allow the system to be shown. Finally a compromise was reached. ATS was allowed to show the AutoMARK in New York State but without any optical scan machine to complete the system.

Following this incident one state assemblywoman, Sandra R. Galef, (D,I,WF-Ossining, NY), was interviewed by The Legislative Gazette, which reported:

Galef believes that corporate interests were fueling previous support for DRE machines. Lobbyists and the president of ES&S, a voting machine manufacturer, told her that New York State was a touch-screen machine state. She responded by saying, ăWhen was that decision made? Weâve [Legislature] never voted on it, New York doesnât have a voting system yet.

The New York Daily News also reported this story:

All the major companies offer both types of equipment (optical scan and DRE), and they deny promoting one technology over another. But they mysteriously avoid making the cheaper equipment available for inspection. At the Capitol recently, a lobbyist managed to shut down a demonstration of optical scanning by getting his client to pull its machine from the display.

Assemblywoman Sandra Galef of Westchester called the company to object and was told that New York is "a touch-screen state."

"I said, 'We are?'" Galef recalled. "I'm a legislator. I don't think I've voted on anything."

"Why are the vendors deciding what type of state New York State should be?" asks Bo Lipari of Ithaca, a retired software engineer who founded New Yorkers for Verified Voting. "We ought to be able to look at all our alternatives and make a rational choice."

Why would ES&S not want to sell the system that everyone has been waiting for? Why would they not want to provide the state of New York with a choice of voting systems? Is this evidence that ES&S is trying to control the market and make decisions for its customers?

A source has told this reporter that ES&S sales representatives are being paid a much higher commission rate for selling their DRE system than they are for the AutoMARK system. ES&S is clearly controlling the marketing of their systems by offering a far less lucrative reward for selling ATS systems than for products produced by ES&S. Is this more evidence that ES&S is attempting to keep the sales of the AutoMARK system to a minimum?

On May 6, 2005 the AutoMARK voting system completed the last testing with an Independent Test Authority enabling the system to be qualified to the federal standards within days. This opens the doors to all of the states that require federal qualification before a voting system can be certified and sold in the state. This success should have been big news for AutoMARK and for their partner in sales, ES&S.

I called AutoMARK to ask if they were going to be sending out a Press Release to announce their successful ITA testing. I was told that a press release would be sent out the following Monday. On Monday I searched the wires and found no Press Release. I then called AutoMARK and asked about the promised release. I was told that ES&S wanted to review the release before it was sent out. In fact, as I found out a few days later, a release was written by ES&S but it only appeared on their website ÷ not in the news. AutoMARK also issued a Press Release but it, too, went only on their website. Nothing was sent to the business-wires as normally happens with corporate news. Essentially, ES&S controlled the news and kept this announcement as secret as they could. Is this even more evidence that ES&S is attempting to keep the sales of the AutoMARK system to a minimum?

There is no doubt that many elections officials and voters have been looking forward to the qualification of the AutoMARK voting system. South Dakota didnât wait for federal qualification. They bought AutoMARK's system for $5,400 per machine, according to a state election official.

Bowie County, Texas was quoted an average price of $5,500 for only 36 of the machines. A Texarkana newspaper reported that the cost per machine to them was $5,400. These seem to be fair prices though sources say $4950.00 was quoted in many locations last year.

"Myth Breakers: Facts About Electronic Elections" provides the following information, collected before the ATS and ES&S agreement: "According to AutoMARK Technical Systems (formerly Vogue Elections Systems), which manufactures a ballot-marking device, the cost for the device would be comparable to the cost of a DRE with a printer attached."

Why then did ES&S, quote a price of $6,500 per machine to Cook County, Illinois, a potential customer with 2650 precincts? Is there any better way to minimize the sales of a product than by inflating the price quoted to its largest customers?

Refusing to demo its product to the largest market in the United States, reducing the commission paid to salespeople who sell the product, minimizing publicity about the product's successes, increasing the product price as the size of the contract increases ÷ are these marketing techniques designed to take advantage of a business bonanza or are they evidence that ES&S is trying to decide where and whether Americans will be voting on paper?

John Gideon is the Information Manager for VoteTrustUSA and for VotersUnite.Org.

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