Florida: Ion Sancho Fights Back
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By Susan Pynchon, Florida Fair Elections Coalition
March 08, 2006
Ion Sancho, besieged Supervisor of Elections in Leon County, Florida, (pictured at right) initiated legal proceedings today against Diebold Election Systems for breach of contract. The lawyer bringing the action is Lida Rodriguez Taseff, an attorney with Duane Morris in Miami. Lida is also the Chair of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition.
Diebold has refused to return phone calls to Leon County election staff, refused to honor its existing contract with Leon County for maintenance and upgrades of its voting system, and further refused to sell Leon County touch-screen voting machines to meet state and federal requirements for disabled acessbility.
At a Leon County Commission meeting on February 28, 2006, county staff revealed that Chuck Owen, Division Counsel for Diebold Election Systems, met with county staff behind closed doors on February 27. According to staff, Owen stated that Diebold would sell its touch-screen voting machines to the county if, and only if, the county removed Supervisor Sancho from office.
There are only three companies that have state-certified voting systems in Florida: Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia. All three vendors have refused to sell disabled-accessible voting systems to Leon County, quite apparently in retribution for the series of "red team" security tests authorized by Sancho in 2005 to determine if there were security vulnerabilities in the Diebold voting system used in Leon County. Tests conducted in the spring of 2005 by Florida computer scientist Dr. Herbert Thompson determined that the voting system password could be bypassed, thus permitting unauthorized manipulation of election data. A test on December 13, 2005, now commonly known as the "Hursti hack," definitively proved that election results could be altered without detection using only a memory card. The security vulnerabilities exposed in the Leon County tests have since been confirmed in an independent test conducted by a team of computer scientists from the University of California at Berkeley and California's Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board. The California tests, while not a thorough examination of the Diebold system, revealed numerous additional security flaws in addition to confirming the tests conducted in Leon County.
Florida's Department of State, instead of supporting Sancho, has gone on the attack against him. The DOS demanded the return of $564,421 in Help America Vote Act funds from Leon County and, in a March 3 letter from Secretary of State Sue Cobb, threatened Supervisor Sancho with "legal action" if he does not have a disabled-accessible voting system in place by May 1, 2006. State law allows the governor to suspend an elected official and further allows the state Senate to remove an elected official from office.
At Leon County Commission meetings on February 14 and February 28, the two Republican members of Leon County's seven-member county commission blasted Sancho for failing to provide Leon County with accessible voting machines in attacks that Sancho believes are politically motivated. The commission meetings may be viewed here.
Sancho, who is registered in Florida as an NPA (no party affiliation), advocates for non-partisan election officials. He authorized the security tests in Leon County because he believes that his job is to protect the integrity of elections. "We need the best, safest, most secure system to conduct voting," Sancho says. "Let's focus on that, because that's not what we currently have. And that's a disservice to the American people and a disservice to our founders, who left us the legacy of our democratic experiment."
Sancho's heroic actions have literally left him with no options for voting systems for this fall's elections, since all three vendors with state-certified voting systems refuse to do business with him. But Sancho is a fighter. He believes he took the right action in authorizing the security tests of his county's voting system. Indeed, the results of those tests continue to reverberate among the nation's election officials. Even Florida's Division of Elections, while never mentioning Diebold or the Leon County tests, recently issued a technical advisory requiring heightened security measures directly linked to the Hursti hack.
Ion Sancho, while not intimidated by the assaults launched against him by the Department of State, the voting machine vendors, and members of the Leon County Commission, acknowledges that the past few months have been "difficult". However, he will continue to fight to preserve the accuracy, transparency and auditability of Leon County's elections. He will not give in to those who are colluding to defeat him. Today's legal action against Diebold is only the first step.
For Sancho's write-up of the earlier security tests conducted in Leon County (which does not include the "Hursti hack"), click here.
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