Manufacturer to Give D.C. Information About Voting Machines

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sequoia Voting Systems agreed yesterday to turn over sensitive information to the D.C. Council about how the District's voting machines work and tabulate results, setting the stage for one of the most comprehensive probes on the reliability of electronic voting equipment.

The agreement is a response to the election night chaos in the September primaries, when Sequoia machines tabulated more ballots than there were voters, resulting in thousands of phantom votes.

Electoral change advocates said the agreement, finalized yesterday in D.C. Superior Court after the city threatened a lawsuit, is one of the first times a manufacturer of electronic voting machines has been forced to endure a public vetting of how its equipment tabulates returns.

"It is certainly going to serve as a precedent not just for further investigations in the District of Columbia, but around the country," said John Bonifaz, legal director for Voter Action, a national voting rights organization.

According to a copy of the agreement, the District will have access to technical information on the internal workings of the machines, known as the source code.

The council, which will also get documents about how the machines were created and maintained, plans to turn the information over to a team of computer and legal experts to review.

"This is the first time, ever, that outside experts will be able to review the documents and everything that went into creating the source code," said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who is heading the council investigation.

Michelle M. Shafer, vice president of communications and external affairs for Sequoia, said the company is "cooperating with the city council to resolve this matter without incurring further legal costs."

"We would like to move past this and resolve this once and for all and do what we can to make sure voters in D.C. feel confident about their voting system," Shafer said.

Bonifaz said he's hopeful that the investigation will provide clues to whether electronic voting machines are reliable and what, if any, safeguards need to be implemented to prevent mishaps.

In addition to the District, 17 states use Sequoia, one of three major providers of electronic voting machines, Cheh said.

Sequoia has turned over its source code to outside experts a few times before, but Cheh said the District will also have access to information that no other government or legal team has ever had a chance to review, including the blueprints for the company's machines.

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