2005-05-26 11:25:28 UTC
December 14,2004 -Venice, FL.
by Daniel Hopsicker
A mistake made in the office of a seriously-compromised Supervisor of
Election in Pinellas County whose husband is a top executive of the
countrys largest election services company has almost unnoticed spiked
the best hope for a election recount in Florida that might have thrown a
spotlight on the dark corners of the Florida election process concealing
widespread systemic and system-wide vote fraud.
The office of Supervisor of Elections in Pinellas County, Deborah Clark,
provided inflated totals on the YES side of the gambling initiative which
were then used by state officials in the official state tally of the
hotly-contested gambling initiative known as Amendment 4.
The initiative would allow casino slot machine gambling in South Florida,
an outcome devoutly to be wished by owners of the spanking new $700
million Hard Rock Café Casino in Hollywood, Florida, a facility all
dressed up but with currently nowhere to go.
Pinellas County voters defeated the gambling initiative by more than
17,000 votes. But the official state record says the exact opposite, the
result of a mistake by the office of Pinellas Elections Supervisor
which would have gone unnoticed, said local reports, had it not been
caught by outside observers.
Advantage Hard Rock
A recount of Floridas votes on the state gambling initiative offered an
opportunity to correlate what was found with what are so far just
theories of how the Presidential election in Florida might have been
Deborah Clark provided an extra 34,000 votes on the YES side of the
gambling initiative, sufficient to legally preclude what would have
otherwise been a mandated recount.
Ms. Clarks performance had been questioned in press accounts before,
most recently after the 2002 primary contest, when newspaper headlines
read Clark's election flubs draw fire.
Strangely, no one can said to have benefited more from the inadvertent
mistake than Clarks own husband. As a longtime top executive with E S &
S, the company which counts more than half the U.S. vote, Richard Clark
probably had more to lose from a recount than almost anyone alive
Should rumored anomalies surface in the recount, the fortunes of any
elections firms involved would no doubt suffer.
Computer Glitches Beat John Kerry
A recount of the gambling initiative, known as Amendment 4, election
experts said, would have offered clues as to how and why 90,000 extra YES
votes for gambling were recorded in Broward County, for example.
This number is almost equal to the extra votes for President Bush cast
in Broward County which researchers say were inexplicable except through
manipulated electronic vote tabulationwhich were counted in the same
Recording phony vote totals seemed a system wide and systemic problem,
and only AFTER being discovered by an outside observer were the wrong
totals corrected. For example, Vincent Profaci, an attorney near Orlando
went to bed with Kerry way ahead in his home county of Orange.
When he woke up he discovered to his horror that Kerry had fallen
Officials excused the 34,000-vote mistake as a computer glitch.
In fact, almost every time vote fraud was discovered by election
observers, it was blandly explained away as nothing but a computer or
Newsflash: COMPUTER GLITCHES beat John Kerrey in Florida.
Lets take a closer look at things like this can happen. Lets take a look
at what happened in Pinellas County.
"How To Fix An Election for Dummies"
Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Deborah Clark election supervisor in Pinellas
County, Florida, in May of 2000.
Trouble began almost immediately. Some of it was even funny
For example, in the Aug. 31 2002 primary, the population of an entire
small town 12,498 voters appeared at the polls in Hillsborough County
and apparently decided not to vote in the race for state attorney.
The town cast votes in all the other contests, but not in the race for
state attorney. Had there been a town-wide secret pact?
To this day no one is sure why those voters didn't vote, or if they did,
what might have happened to their votes. They are ghost votes, floating
in the ether. The local papers labeled it A Voting Mystery.
More seriously, while Deborah Clark had worked as a top official in the
Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office, her husband Richard Clarks
employer Elections Systems & Software, was awarded more than $400,000 in
business with the office, and was up for a lucrative contract worth as
much as $15-million to sell new voting machines to Pinellas County.
Clark, who hadnt disclosed the connection, hotly denied a conflict of
interest. Neither my husband nor I would ever do anything that would
compromise the integrity of the elections office, or our own personal
integrity," she said.
Clark's failure to disclose that her husband was working for a voting
machine company bidding for Pinellas' business, coupled with the
last-minute revelation that the executive who would have managed
Pinellas' elections for Sequoia Voting Systems, the company the county
chose, was under indictment in Louisiana, left a bit of a sour taste.
Elections in Pinellas County have been occasions for holding your breath
for several election cycles.
"A reputation for corruption to be proud of."
So when, on the day of the 2004 Presidential election, numerous anecdotes
from voters in Pinellas County reported problems like voting for Kerry
and having the vote register for Bush, (see pressing Bernacker and
getting Giambelluca described in a previous story) it did not come as a
Roberta Harvey, 57, of Clearwater, Fla., said she had tried at least a
half dozen times to select Kerry-Edwards when she voted Tuesday at
Northwood Presbyterian Church, said an Associated Press report .
After 10 minutes trying to change her selection, the Pinellas County
resident said she called a poll worker and got a wet-wipe napkin to clean
the touch screen as well as a pencil so she could use its eraser-end
instead of her finger. Harvey said it took about 10 attempts to select
Kerry before and a summary screen confirmed her intended selection, said
Election officials in several Florida counties where voters complained
about such problems did not return calls Tuesday night, reported the
Associated Press on Nov. 4. And things havent changed since.
A spokeswoman for the company that makes the touch-screen machines used
in Pinellas, Palm Beach and two other Florida counties, Alfie Charles of
Sequoia Voting Systems, said the machines' monitors may need to be
Sequoia is the second-largest election services company, with roughly
one-third of the voting machine market. In 1999, the Justice Department
filed federal charges against Sequoia alleging that employees paid out
more than $ 8 million in bribes.
Pinellas County purchased voting equipment from Sequoia worth $14
million, even after discovering that Phil Foster, a Sequoia executive,
faced indictment in Louisiana for money laundering and corruption.
The Tampa Tribune stated Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah
Clark's high praise of Sequoia Voting Systems was instrumental in the
company's landing a $14 million contract with the county in 2001.
Were from the Government. Were here to help.
Fifteen Florida counties now use touch-screen machines, including Palm
Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade. They had scurried to buy the voting
machines after the Legislature outlawed punch-card balloting in the wake
of the hanging chad controversy of the 2000 presidential election.
In December 2001, Broward County chose a $17.2 million touch-screen
system over a pencil-and-paper system priced at no more than $5 million.
Earlier that year, in May, Palm Beach County agreed to pay $14 million
for touch-screens, compared with $3 million for the simpler system.
Why use electronic machines at all? Blame the Federal Governments Help
America Vote Act, which authorized $3.9 billion in federal spending to
help states replace punch-card and lever voting machines.
With a war and a soaring deficit, why would they want to do that?
"I have always been concerned about the undervote on electronic
machines," said Rebecca Mercuri, a computer expert at Harvard University
who has written extensively about voting issues. "We don't know what
happens with the votes because there is no real audit of the machines."
Ah. Theres the rub.
Not surprisingly, Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark wants to keep it
Although she hadnt shown much concern over spending $14 million on the
machines, she said that the $2 million expense of retrofitting Pinellas
County's new touch screen voting machines to generate a receipt for
voters which would verify how their ballots were cast was unnecessary.
The county's touch screen system, built by Sequoia Voting Systems, was
safe from tampering, she stated.
"A Mechanic for Our Time"
Her assertions should be tempered by the knowledge that while Clark
worked as a top official in the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office,
her husband's employer was awarded more than $400,000 in business with
Her husband, Richard Clark, isn't involved in sales, reported a
sympathetic article in the St. Petersburg Times. He installs and fixes
elections machines and says he has steered clear of business in Florida.
But it is exactly these people, the ones who install and fix election
machines, the so-called mechanics, who have the opportunity and expertise
to rig the vote. When an election gets fixed, its almost always because
mechanics got to the machines.
Yet the development, coming after Clark's controversial handling of the
presidential election in Pinellas, raised some eyebrows this week. Some
county commissioners say they weren't told about her husband's connection
to the company.
It wasnt like bribing election officials was something that never
happened in Tampa
Officers of Shoup Voting Machine Co., a Sequoia predecessor, were
indicted for allegedly bribing politicians in Tampa, Florida back in
1971, according to the San Francisco Business Times.
Its a job with a little bit of history Even Clark's deputy
administrator, Karen Butler, is a sister of Sandra Mortham, Florida's
former secretary of state and a lobbyist for ES&S before the state
Butler told reporters that family ties won't matter.
Clark's husband, Richard Clark, 59, is a nationally known expert in
installing new voting systems.
An Insider at the Feast
He worked as a project manager for ES&S for about five years, having
joined the firm when it acquired the company that previously employed
him, Business Records Corp.
But Clark said he quit ES&S just before his wife was named elections
supervisor because he was worried that his employment with the firm could
appear as a conflict. But so far, Clark's new company, Richard A. Clark
Enterprises, works for just one company: ES&S.
The selection process in Pinellas County became mired in ethical
conflicts after county commissioners learned in July 2001 that ES&S had
very close ties to Deborah Clark.
Clark had been working in Birmingham, Ala. as an independent contractor,
after resigning from the company "I have nothing whatsoever to do with
that decision in Pinellas County. We don't talk about anything like
that," Clark told the St Pete Times. "We've been married 17 years. I love
her too much to put her in any position like that.
The paper also quoted a sales executive from Sequoia Pacific, John
Krizka, who said he did not think ES&S got any unfair advantage in
Coming from a salesman for a competitor, this seems convincing, except
that the two companies have a documented and tangled history of collusion
between the two supposedly competing firms.
Then too, consider that Sequoia had paid $441,000 in a single year to
Krizka, just for selling voting machines to four Florida counties.
Although this might be viewed as a bit excessive, it wasnt enough for
Krizka, who sued, claiming Sequoia had stiffed him on another $1.8
And heres where our story begins to come full circle
Birmingham, City of 'Mechanics'
Apparently no one noticed that when Richard Clark went to Birmingham,
another Birmingham election exec, Phil Foster, was being indicted on
felony bribery charges.
Phil Foster, a regional sales vice president, was allegedly involved in a
conspiracy and money-laundering scheme that involved the sale of machine
parts at inflated prices and kickbacks of nearly $600,000.
Pinellas commissioners were surprised when the St. Pete Times reported
that Foster, a key employee for front-runner Sequoia Voting Systems, had
been indicted for the elections kickback scheme in Louisiana.
Sequoia was not involved, nor was the company charged, said the St Pete
This isnt strictly true. In fact, it isnt true at all
Testimony in Federal Court in Baton Rouge revealed that, in fact, Sequoia
had engineered the complex scheme, an action which provides yet another
Pinellas Commission Chairman Calvin Harris told the Times he assumed the
state had checked out the competing companies while their machines were
Not so, said Clay Roberts, director of the state's Division of Elections,
who maintained that background checks were a job for counties.
So while the state of Florida was death on voting by convicted felons,
there were no safeguards in place to prevent the votes from being counted
Invisible Hand Wearing a Velvet Glove
The last time a big gambling initiative was on the ballot in a Southern
state, the election, in Louisiana, produced visible evidence of
state-wide vote fraud.
Gambling was the burning issue on the ballot. Allegations of voting
irregularity became commonplace.
We saw the invisible hand of one of the second largest elections services
company, Sequoia Pacific, in action. Commissioner of Elections and former
pro football player Jerry Fowler got himself in big gambling trouble at
Harrah's and paid off like a jimmied slot machine for over a decade.
When big moneys at stake, we learned, people looking to fix elections
take off the velvet gloves.
So we paid close attention to Amendment 4, the gambling initiative on the
Florida ballot. And what we found revealed that Pinellas County isnt an
Sequoia Voting Systems also sold neighboring Hillsborough its $12-million
package of touch screen voting machines, had a computer indexing system
malfunction in the Aug. 31 primary.
Thats a serious computer glitch, apparently.
Sequoia had never experienced this particular glitch., which was a doozy.
A total of 118,699 people turned out to vote countywide. But somehow
125,891 voted in the race for state attorney.
That's 7,192 more votes than voters.
"All Roads Lead to Vegas"
For why this happens theres no better example than where else? Las
Back in 1993-94, many observers wondered why new Clark County elections
chief Kathryn Ferguson would commit to what turned out to be tens of
millions of dollars in expenditures to adopt Sequoia Pacifics electronic
So determined was Ms. Ferguson to buy the Sequoia machines for Las Vegas
that a former member of her elections department team stated Ferguson
resorted to the simple exigency of having Sequoia Pacifics
representative send a list of bid specifications designed so that
Sequoia's machines were the only ones that could meet them.
This hardly seems sporting. And its definitely illegal. Asked at the
time, Ferguson said she had no concern that her acceptance of a job at
Sequoia Pacific might appear to be a payoff for favors rendered.
Today Kathryn Ferguson is E S & Ss chief spokesman. Shes good to go.
So the real question isnt Did vote fraud affect the Presidential race?
The real question is, How could it not?
Although many profess amazed and seem confused about why Democrats have
been such weenies about vote fraud, this is a bipartisan scandal. And
both parties know it.
When several dozen voters in six states - particularly Democrats in
Florida - said the wrong candidates appeared on their touch-screen
machine's checkout screen, the Election Protection Coalition called the
problem "troubling but anecdotal."
Why are they excusing felony fraud?
State Election Commissioner Jerry Fowler, sentenced to five years in
prison for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from
voting machine contractors, could tell you
Revelations of his bribe-taking might never have emerged except for
complaints from, of all things, a Republican candidate, Woody Jenkins,
narrowly beaten by Democratic Senate candidate Mary Landrieu, in an
especially bad-tempered campaign.
A year-long investigation into the voting process ensued, which uncovered
certain financial irregularities.
Today Woody Jenkins is out of politics.
The system rolls on
OB Tolkien: The West ain't what it used to be...
What odds for Jeb Bush as the next President?
After all, he's shown he's willing to get his hands very dirty.