Michelle M. Shafer, Vice President, Communication and External Affairs, Sequoia Voting Systems, wrote Thad and I regarding our recent essay on the discussion regarding Sequoia Voting System’s ownership structure. In the interest of fair play, and to try to keep the debate open to all sides, here is Ms. Shafer’s letter to us, unedited, published with her permission:
Dear Mike & Thad –
Thanks for the opportunity to respond to points raised in you June 3rd ElectionUpdates blog post and a Los Angeles Times article from that same date about Sequoia Voting Systems and its ownership.
Sequoia Voting Systems is an American company, based in Oakland, California that has successfully operated in the United States supplying election technology and services to state and local election entities in 20 states for over 100 years. In addition, the vast majority of Sequoia’s election technology is manufactured in New York State by the company’s two manufacturing partners: Harvard Custom Manufacturing and Jaco Electronics.
Sequoia has operated in the U.S. under foreign ownership for the last 24 years. From 1982 – 2002, Sequoia had an Irish parent company – Jefferson Smurfit Group PLC, and from 2002-2005, Sequoia had a British parent company – De La Rue PLC. In 2005, Smartmatic Corporation, a U.S. company, incorporated in Delaware and based in Boca Raton, Florida, purchased Sequoia from De La Rue.
Smartmatic Corporation is owned by Smartmatic International Holding B.V., a Netherlands corporation. Smartmatic Int’l Holding serves as a holding company for the Smartmatic Group’s operational businesses, which include companies organized and located in Venezuela, Barbados and Mexico and offices in Taiwan and Boca Raton. Smartmatic Int’l Holding B.V. is in turn owned by Smartmatic International Group N.V., a holding company with no separate business operations organized in the Netherlands Antilles.
Approximately 97% of Smartmatic is owned by its four founders – Antonio Mugica Rivero (a citizen of both Spain and Venezuela), Roger Pinate (a citizen of Venezuela), Alfredo Anzola (a citizen of Venezuela) and Jorge Massa (a citizen of France and Venezuela) – through personal trusts and private foundations in which they hold the beneficial interest. The remaining 2.89% of Smartmatic is owned by key employees of Smartmatic and family and acquaintances of the founders.
No foreign government or officials thereof have any ownership interest, directly or indirectly, in Sequoia or any of the Smartmatic entities. The corporate and ownership structure of the company was established in large measure to provide fiscally efficient results across multiple jurisdictions in which the firms do business and is modeled after similar approaches used by well known multinational firms.
Sequoia has always been open, honest and communicative with our customers and constituents on this and all matters, and will continue to conduct ourselves in this manner to help answer questions and alleviate concerns. For more detailed information on Sequoia’s ownership structure and other related questions about Smartmatic, please see this area of Sequoia’s website – http://www.sequoiavote.com/article.php?id=74. You can also visit Smartmatic’s website at www.smartmatic.com to learn more about the company.
In your June 3rd post, you stated that the “broader problem is a lack of transparency throughout the vendor-administrator relationship” and you list types of information about election suppliers and procurements that you would like to see compiled and made available to the public and researchers so that everyone would have access to this type of information with transparency as the goal.
While compiling this information and formulating some type of clearinghouse is a worthy goal (and a daunting task!), I believe it would still not satisfy the majority of those who have concerns about the actual transparency of this country’s electoral process, many of which can be alleviated through education about the specific voting equipment used in jurisdictions, the state’s certification process, the individual jurisdiction’s selection process for procuring equipment as well as through active civic participation locally by interested citizens. It is also important to note that a great deal of the information referenced is already available, albeit in a wide variety of disparate locations, and much of what you mentioned is often required for vendors to disclose when responding to Requests for Proposals from various government entities.
In light of this discussion, however, I believe it is important to drill down to the following points and remind people of these facts when thinking about election transparency:
• Election technology providers do not conduct elections in this country; state and local election officials conduct elections. State and local election officials purchase equipment from vendors, including training, project management, Election Day site support, etc., but elections are managed by each jurisdiction’s election officials in conjunction with staff members and poll workers who perform admirably in service of our country and its voters.
• U.S. voting systems are subject to comprehensive, rigorous and objective testing and verification at the state and federal levels, including a line-by-line review of their software source code by Independent Testing Authorities (ITAs), prior to use in an election by U.S. jurisdictions. One example of this thorough certification testing of voting equipment at the state level can be found in the State of California. Very detailed test results and certification information on voting technology providers certified in California can be found on the Secretary of State’s website at http://www.ss.ca.gov/elections/elections_vs.htm.
• Equipment testing and election auditing undertaken at the local level includes pre- and post election testing of equipment, logic & accuracy testing, parallel monitoring, canvassing, state mandated recounts of a certain percentage of votes, chain of custody review. Local election officials have important procedures in place to ensure the accuracy and security of the elections they are tasked with administering.
• Approximately 25 states require will require the use of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) in time for the 2008 presidential election according to “Recounts: From Punch Cards to Paper Trails”, a February 2006 publication from electionline.org. This combination of electronic voting and a paper audit trail reviewed by voters should go a long way in providing a redundant and secure voting record that avoids any questions about the integrity of electoral results.
We appreciate that Ms. Shafer took the time to send us this lengthy response, and hope that her thoughts help continue this discussion in a positive direction.