Voting machine contract gets Justice Dept. review

Voters head to polls in one last big round of primaries before midterms.
By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 8:54 AM

The Justice Department is scrutinizing the actions of the nation's largest voting machine company, according to court records and sources.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating the awarding of a $50 million contract by New York City in January to Election Systems & Software, according to sources familiar with the probe. The company provided voting machines used in Tuesday's elections in New York City and the District. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity, because it is unclear whether any charges will be filed.

The criminal investigation follows an antitrust lawsuit the Justice Department filed in March against the Omaha-based company over its merger with a leading competitor. That lawsuit was settled after the Justice Department required the elections firm, known as ES&S, to divest key assets it had purchased from the competitor.

A spokeswoman for Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, declined to comment, as did spokesmen for ES&S. Even before its September 2009 acquisition of Premier Election Solutions Inc., ES&S had provided voting equipment systems to at least 41 states, according to the Justice Department.

One subject of the criminal investigation, sources said, is Anthony Mangone, a New York lawyer who was indicted in January on racketeering and other, unrelated federal charges stemming from real estate projects in Yonkers, N.Y.

Mangone was a lobbyist for ES&S throughout 2009, the period in which it was seeking the $50 million voting machine contract from New York City, lobbying records show.

James R. DeVita, an attorney for Mangone, said, "There was nothing untoward about the contract at all. . . . Everything was done according to the law."

A spokeswoman for the New York City Board of Elections, which awarded the contract, did not return telephone calls and e-mails. The board has said previously that it is cooperating with the probe of the contract by the U.S. attorney's office.

The new voting machines triggered reports of scattered delays during Tuesday's elections. The optical scan machines, which required voters to fill in an oval or square and to slide ballots into a scanner, replaced the levers New Yorkers had pulled for years.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the glitches "a royal screw-up" and blasted the city's elections board. But John Conklin, a spokesman for the New York State elections board, said the problems "were not dissimilar to an average election day. Machines always break down on election day."

In the District, voters went to polls Tuesday equipped for the first time with ES&S equipment - including "iVotronic" touch-screen machines and optical paper-ballot scanners. The machines were purchased this year for $1.2 million, according to city contract records.

Shortly after polls closed Tuesday, the District's elections board fielded widespread reports of difficulties opening polls, most involving inoperable machines.

But officials blamed the problems on insufficient training for poll workers and the usual "hiccups" associated with the rollout of new technology.

"With all of the moving parts that we had in the election, the voting machines were not the problem," said Alysoun McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the District's Board of Elections and Ethics. Staff writer Mike DeBonis, research editor Alice Crites and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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