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Aldermen: No payments to machine company

Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

Four influential alderman demanded Monday that Chicago withhold $16 million in payments from the voting machine company at the center of last week's ballot-counting "debacle" and questioned the company's Venezuelan ownership.
"Just like we shouldn't have ports operating in the United States owned by firms from Dubai, we shouldn't have firms running elections in Chicago that are owned by foreign interests," said Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th).
Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal acknowledged that the parent company of California-based Sequoia Voting Systems is "a privately owned company domiciled in Venezuela," the country where the left-leaning Hugo Chavez is president.
"They bought a company that was well-established for many, many years in the United States. They notified us when that occurred. . . . We investigated it and found no improprieties with it at all," Neal said.
As for demands that the city comptroller withhold further payment from Sequoia, Neal said it's beyond the City Council's control.
Federal funding for the $26 million in city voting equipment was channeled through the State Board of Elections. The money is now in the hands of the city election board. Already, $10 million has been paid.
"We certainly have no disagreement with the request to withhold contract payments. We're going to be considering it at our board meeting" Tuesday, Neal said.
Voters in Chicago and suburban Cook County used touch-screen and optical scan machines for the first time last week. But when election judges tried to merge results of the two systems, many machines failed. That forced vote counting to drag on for days.
Citing the 30-day cancellation clause in all city contracts, Budget Committee Chairman William Beavers (7th) said Monday the city "might not be stuck" with Sequoia.
Firm blames lack of training
But, Neal said, "They will be our vendor for November and, probably, the municipal election after that. We will bring in consultants, if necessary, to step into certain functions, and they will bear the cost of that."
Sequoia officials could not be reached for comment. They have promised to work with the election board to find solutions before November. But the company has maintained that a lack of training for election judges was the biggest problem.
Burke was joined by Beavers, president pro tem Danny Solis (25th) and Manny Flores (1st).

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