Sequoia Voting Systems

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Sequoia Voting Systems is a California-based company that is one of the largest providers of electronic voting systems. Some of its major competitors are Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) and Election Systems & Software.

Company history

Sequoia has been involved with voting systems for more than 100 years. At the end of the 19th century, Sequoia invented the lever-action mechanical voting system. Many machines of this type are still used today in some U.S. jurisdictions. Sequoia was a subsidiary of De La Rue, a British security company. [1] On 8 March 2005 Sequoia was acquired by Smartmatic, a Venezuelan company which had a voting machine business there. In November 2007, Smartmatic sold Sequoia to its American management.[2]


California decertification/recertification

On August 3, 2007, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen withdrew approval and granted conditional reapproval[3] to Sequoia Voting Systems optical scan and DRE voting machines after a "review of the voting machines certified for use in California in March 2007"[3] found "significant security weaknesses throughout the Sequoia system"[4] and "pervasive structural weaknesses"[4] which raise "serious questions as to whether the Sequoia software can be relied upon to protect the integrity of elections."[4]

“Hanging chads" controversy

A 2007 investigative report by Dan Rather charged Sequoia with deliberately supplying poor quality punch-card ballots to Palm Beach County, Florida for the 2000 election. According to former Sequoia employees, the ballots for Palm Beach County were produced with paper and manufacturing processes that were outside of normal specifications. This supposedly caused all of the problems with "hanging chads". When quality problems were found, Sequoia management ordered the production workers to ignore them. One worker speculated that the object was to discredit punch-card ballots and thus promote sales of electronic voting machines. [5]

Florida touch-screen replacement

After the 2000 election problems, Florida required its counties to replace punch-card voting systems with touch-screen systems. Some of these were purchased from Sequoia. However, there were some major problems with these systems, and in 2007 Florida ordered the counties to replace the touch-screens with optical-scan systems by 1 July 2008. Sequoia offered to buy back its units for $1 each. This offer was rejected.[6]

Threat of legal action against Professor Edward Felten

In early 2008, New Jersey election officials announced that they planned to send one or more Sequoia Advantage voting machines to Professors Edward Felten and Andrew Appel of Princeton University for analysis. Felten and Appel are computer scientists interested in security issues, especially in regard to electronic voting systems. In March 2008, Sequoia sent an e-mail to Professor Felten asserting that allowing him to examine Sequoia voting machines would violate the license agreement between Sequoia and the county which bought them, and also that Sequoia would take legal action "to stop... non-compliant analysis... publication of Sequoia software... or any other infringement of our intellectual property." [7] This action sparked outrage among computer technology activists.[8]Cory Doctorow commented "It's hard to imagine a stupider legal threat."[9]

Shortly after this, Sequoia's corporate Web site was hacked. Ironically, the hack was first discovered by Ed Felten. Sequoia took its Web site down on 20 March and removed the "intrusive content".[10]

Continuing control of Sequoia by Smartmatic

In April 2008, competitor Hart InterCivic attempted a hostile takeover attempt of Sequoia. Court documents unearthed at this time revealed that Smartmatic retains control over several aspects of Sequoia. SmartMatic holds a $2 million note from SVS Holdings, Inc., the management team which purchased the company from Smartmatic. SmartMatic also owns Intellectual Property rights for all of Sequoia's currently deployed voting systems in the United States, and holds the right to negotiate overseas non-compete agreements.

The CEO and President of Sequoia and SVS Holdings was Jack Blaine. During a conference call with company employees, Blaine admitted that SVS/Sequoia did not control the Intellectual Property of Sequoia voting machines, but SmartMatic did.

These arrangements may be in violation of an agreement between Sequoia and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) of the U.S. Treasury Department. CFIUS had been reviewing the ties between Sequoia, Smartmatic, and the government of Venezuela. CFIUS dropped the investigation when SmartMatic agreed to divest Sequoia, in a deal which purportedly sold off all control of Sequoia to SVS Holdings. [11]

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