Thursday, August 15, 2019

Board Of Elections Won't Rescind Voting Machines Purchase

By Ralph Cipriano

The Board of Elections today decided who cares if the company that sells the most expensive -- and allegedly the most easily hacked voting machines out there -- broke city law by failing to disclose that it had hired lobbyists to help land a $29 million contract with the city?

And who cares if those same lobbyists were writing undisclosed campaign checks to a couple of elections commissioners who allegedly were in the tank big time for the winning bidder?

To ratify a deal that smells pretty ripe at this point the Elections Board had to ignore City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, who stopped by today to personally ask the board to wait just "a few short weeks" until her ongoing investigation of the voting machines deal was complete, so the board could make a "fully informed decision."

It was Rhynhart who discovered the undisclosed lobbyists and their undisclosed contributions to the city commissioners. It was Rhynhart who described those failures to disclose as "a small part of what my team has been looking at."

Earlier this year, the controller's office served two batches of subpoenas on city officials to look into the procurement process behind the voting machines purchase, which was buried under a blanket of secrecy.

In the voting machines procurement process, the identity of the officials who reviewed the prospective bids was not disclosed; neither were their recommendations or findings that would explain why they bypassed several lower bidders.

The city, however, only got around to obeying those subpoenas from the controller during the last week of August. So it's going to take some time to dig through all that material and assemble a full report on a deal that the controller has repeatedly stated she wants to block because she was "deeply concerned about the legality of this process."

It's a process that appeared slanted to favor the eventual winner, Election Systems and Software LLC, or ES&S, the manufacturer of the ExpressVote XL.

But the Elections Board decided it couldn't wait a few weeks.

"I do not believe that this process should be overturned," declared Judge Giovanni Campbell, one of two elections commissioners appointed to replace Al Schmidt and Lisa Deeley on the board, the two elections commissioners running for reelection who were taking money from ES&S lobbyists.

"My vote is to maintain the contract," agreed the other appointed elections commissioner, Judge Vincent Furlong.

The only other incumbent elections commissioner in the room, Anthony Clark, who is retiring, remained silent. Or if he did try to say something, he might have been drowned out by the boos and catcalls from the audience, who were chanting without success, "Vote your conscience."

The funniest moment of the afternoon came when Alan C. Kessler, a lawyer who's a partner in Duane Morris LLP, one of ES&S's undisclosed lobbyists, told the board that ES&S's failure to disclose "wasn't intentional" and a "classic case of no harm, no foul."

Well not exactly. ES&S will have to pay a fine of $2.9 million, a penalty that a company spokesperson has already said ES&S will pay.

In voting to uphold the voting machines today, the Board of Elections had to ignore the voices of a few of their own.

A Democratic committee person who told the board about the voting machines deal, "It stinks," and that the city had become "a national embarrassment." And a judge of elections who also wanted the deal voided, out of concerns that the new machines could easily be hacked.

After the meeting, Rhynhart told reporters she'd be back in a couple of weeks when her investigation is over, to discuss her findings with the board, and once again ask them to reconsider their vote.

But the city has already spent big bucks on its new voting machines.

In a letter to the Board of Elections, Procurement Commissioner Monique Nesmith-Joyner said that ES&S has already delivered to the city more than 3,200 voting machines. The city has also entered into a one-year lease for a climate-controlled warehouse to house the new voting machines that will cost $777,000. The city has also spent more than $87,000 to rent and purchase vehicles to transport the machines between city facilities, Nesmith-Joyner wrote.

So the elections board decided who needs to wait for what further revelations may emerge from the controller's subpoenas. Let's just keep the deal we've got.


  1. Welcome to Philly!

  2. Where I grew up in Cumberland County,we referred to eastern PA as Filthydelphia. And that was 55 years ago!


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