N.J. Bows to Sequoia Pressure

County election officials drop plans for an independent third-party review of e-voting machines. 

Bowing to legal pressure from Sequoia Voting Systems, New Jersey election officials decided March 18 to pull their request for Princeton University researchers to conduct an independent analysis of Sequoia's e-voting machines.

The request originally came after Union County, N.J., officials reported some of Sequoia's AVC Advantage machines reported incorrect party vote totals in New Jersey's Feb. 5 presidential primary election. According to New Jersey voting officials, the ancillary party totals had no effect on the cast vote records on the voting machines.

Sequoia blamed the party total vote variances on poll worker error. "This scenario takes place through an unusual sequence of poll worker actions on the control panel of the Advantage that does not follow the prescribed election and machine procedures," Sequoia said in a Feb. 28 statement.

Nevertheless, Union County officials asked noted Princeton e-voting researchers Ed Felten and Andrew Appel to analyze the Sequoia machines for possible vulnerabilities, a request that prompted Sequoia to send a letter to Union County threatening legal action if the machines were turned over Princeton.

Unlike more modern touch-screen machines, Sequoia's Advantage uses push buttons and lamps. The machines are scheduled to be widely used in the key April 11 Pennsylvania primary. The machines have been in use since the early 1980s and, according to Sequoia, they have been vigorously tested by both federal and state authorities.

Sequoia claims that turning over the machines for a third-party analysis would be a violation of the county's licensing agreement with Sequoia. The company also sent an e-mail to Felten threatening litigation.

"Certain New Jersey election officials have stated that they plan to send to you one or more Sequoia Advantage voting machines for analysis," Edwin Smith, Sequoia's vice president of compliance, wrote in the e-mail. "I want to make you aware that if the County does so, it violates their established Sequoia licensing Agreement for use of the voting system."

The e-mail adds, "Sequoia has also retained counsel to stop any infringement of our intellectual properties, including any non-compliant analysis."

Sequoia also issued a statement on its Web site noting licensing agreements are standard practice in the technology industry. "Sequoia does not support any and all unauthorized activities that violate or circumvent our product licensing agreements," the company states. "Sequoia will vigorously protect and defend its intellectual property and enforcement of established licensing agreements."

Last year, Appel and his Princeton students obtained a Sequoia Advantage machine for analysis and found the machine's digital lock could be easily picked and that non-soldered ROM chips could be removed. Sequoia countered that such tampering would trigger an alarm at the company's headquarters.