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SCYTL, a Spanish-based international company that recently purchased the leading U.S. electronic voting firm, yesterday announced it is hiring an electronic voting industry veteran, Michelle Shafer, to direct the company’s communications initiatives.

Shafer has a long history of putting positive spins on widespread concerns over the controversial voting systems she has represented as spokeswoman over the years.

Shafer will be leading the branding, marketing, government affairs and communications initiatives for Scytl’s U.S. subsidiary, SOE Software.

In January, SCYTL, based in Barcelona, acquired 100 percent of SOE Software, the leading software provider of election management solutions in the United States.

The company previously has faced questions about the security of its electronic voting technologies, which are now set to be deployed in 900 U.S. jurisdictions via its U.S. subsidiary.

The firm already provides balloting for overseas U.S. military and civilian voting in nine states along with elections technologies in several districts.

Concerns have also been raised about SCYTL’s ties to the Spanish government and to international venture capital firms.

The press release announcing Shafer’s hiring stressed she possesses hands-on electronic election experience through her work as a subject-matter expert for U.S. Department of Defense contractor CALIBRE Systems during the company’s work for the U.S. Federal Voting Assistance Program.

The release noted Shafer served as a New Voting Technology Expert during an Election Assistance Mission to Switzerland for the Oct. 23, 2011, elections and worked as a polling station adviser for the December 2010 elections in Kosovo.

Entirely missing from the press release was the work Shafer did for much of her career – how she served as spokeswoman over the years for two highly controversial voting companies that faced major questions over the veracity of some of their voting systems. It was Shafer’s job to explain away the problems.

In December 2005, Shafer became vice president of communications for Sequoia Voting Systems after nearly a decade working for election technology provider Hart InterCivic in various marketing and communications positions.

In 2004, Wired.com reported on widespread problems for top e-voting brands across the nation made by Hart InterCivic, Sequoia and other firms.

In Florida, for example, 10 touch-screen voting machines failed at precincts in Broward County.

Voters in Florida and Texas complained about calibration problems with touch-screen machines. Problems occurred when voters touched the screen next to one candidate’s name and an “X” appeared in a box next to another candidate’s name, reported Wired.com.

Reported Wired:

Other problems included e-voting machines that appeared to record votes correctly when voters touched the screen, but indicated a different selection on the review screen before voters cast their ballot. In some cases voters had to redo their ballot five or six times before the correct votes took. …

Voters in Palm Beach County, Florida, reported that when they went to vote on Sequoia machines some races on their electronic ballots were already pre-marked before they started voting. They had to ask poll workers to assist them in removing the selections from the ballot so they could start with a clean ballot. In some cases they weren’t successful in doing this.

In Texas, voters casting straight-party tickets reported that machines cast ballots for candidates outside of their chosen party. For example, if a voter chose to vote straight Republican, rather than automatically marking all Republican choices on the ballot, the machine marked some Democratic choices.

As spokeswoman for Hart InterCivic, Shafer insisted the problems that occurred in Texas with her company’s machines were caused by voters rather than by the machines.

“It’s not a machine issue,” Shafer said. “It’s voters not properly following the instructions.”

Sequoia faced problems of its own. The company gained notoriety in the 2000 presidential election after its punch cards were at the center of the “hanging chad” controversy in Florida.

Sequoia was charged with supplying poor quality punch-card ballots to Palm Beach County, Florida.

On Aug. 3, 2007, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen withdrew approval and granted conditional reapproval to Sequoia’s optical scan and DRE voting machines after a review reportedly found “significant security weaknesses throughout the Sequoia system” and “pervasive structural weaknesses” which raise “serious questions as to whether the Sequoia software can be relied upon to protect the integrity of elections.”

In 2008, Sequoia’s e-voting equipment was blamed for allowing thousands of fake write-in votes. D.C. election officials pointed to a defective computer memory cartridge in Sequoia’s system for creating “glitch.”

Shafer was quoted as saying “there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the database.” She added, “There’s absolutely no problem with the machines in the polling places. No. No.”

In the run up to the 2008 presidential elections, Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper reported on “problems with accuracy, phantom votes and other issues –involving Sequoia Voting Systems machines.”

The newspaper related that Shafer, as Sequoia’s spokeswoman, couldn’t explain why the machines didn’t sort ballots properly during recent tests.

“The 400C and the Insight optical scanners which are used in [Palm Beach County] are tried and true,” Shafer said in an email to the newspaper. “They have been used for years throughout the country without issue.”

WND reviewed scores of other examples of Shafer attempting to explain the voting problems with her company’s machines.

Imagine voting through Google, Apple

SCYTL, meanwhile, announced last month the successful implementation of technology that allows ballots to be cast using Google and Apple smart phones and tablet computers, as WND reported.

SCYTL unveiled a platform that it says encrypts each individual ballot on a voter’s Google or Apple mobile device before the ballot is then transmitted to an electronic voting system.

Using this technology “Scytl is now able to guarantee end-to-end security – from the voter to the final tally – not only for computer-based online voting but also for mobile voting,” stated a May press release by the company.

“By leveraging its pioneering security technology with Google and Apple’s mobile device platforms, Scytl has become the premier election technology provider to offer an online voting system that guarantees the highest standards in terms of both voter privacy and ballot integrity both on personal computers and mobile devices,” said Gabriel Dos Santos, Scytl’s vice president of software engineering.

The U.S. currently does not utilize voting platforms using mobile devices. SCYTL sees such methods as the future of electronic voting.

It is unclear what role SCYTL’s U.S. subsidiary, SOE Software, will take during this year’s presidential election.

National security concerns

With the purchase of SOE Software, SCYTL has increased its involvement in the U.S. elections process. SOE Software boasts a strong U.S. presence, providing results in over 900 jurisdictions.

In 2009, SCYTL formally registered with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (AEC) as the first Internet voting manufacturer in the U.S. under the EAC Voting System Testing and Certification Program.

Also that year, SCYTL entered into an agreement with Shafer’s former firm, Hart InterCivic, to jointly market a flexible and secure electronic pollbook purportedly to allow U.S. election officials and poll workers to easily manage the electoral roll on Election Day in an efficient and convenient manner.

SCYTL’s ePollBookTM already replaced the paper precinct roster in Washington, D.C.

During the midterm elections in November 2010, SCYTL successfully carried out electoral modernization projects in 14 states. The company boasted that a “great variety” of SCYTL’s technologies were involved in the projects, including an online platform for the delivery of blank ballots to overseas voters, an Internet voting platform and e-pollbook software to manage the electoral roll at the polling stations.

The states that used SCYTL’s technologies during the midterms, along with the District of Columbia, were New York, Texas, Washington, California, Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nebraska and West Virginia.

Voter Action, an advocacy group that seeks elections integrity in the U.S., sent a lengthy complaint to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in April 2010 charging the integration of SCYTL systems “raises national security concerns.”

“Foreign governments may also seek to undermine the national security interests of the United States, either directly or through other organizations,” Voter Action charged.

The document notes that SCYTL was founded in 2001 as a spinoff from a research group at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, which was partially funded by the Spanish government’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

SCYTL’s headquarters are in Barcelona with offices in Washington, D.C., Singapore, Bratislava and Athens.

Project Vote noted that in 2008, the Florida Department of State commissioned a review of SCYTL’s remote voting software and concluded, in part, that:

  • The system is vulnerable to attack from insiders.
  • In a worst case scenario, the software could lead to 1) voters being unable to cast votes; 2) an election that does not accurately reflect the will of the voters; and 3) possible disclosure of confidential information, such as the votes cast by individual voters.
  • The system may be subject to attacks that could compromise the integrity of the votes cast.

Still, the Florida Department of State provided SCYTL with a Provisional Certification valid for two years certifying the company was “deemed compliant with the functional and security requirements.” SCYTL’s voting system was used during the 2008 presidential election.

With research by Brenda J. Elliott

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